This does not mean the campaign against meth has been pointless. Far from it. The shift from a cottage industry to a well-run international business was good, because it meant amateur meth cooks were no longer setting fire to their children. Moving people onto other, slightly less harmful drugs is no bad thing, either. So grim was the methamphetamine experience in Pierce county that some view the rise of crack cocaine with relief.That's perhaps the most succinct statement I've seen of the overall benefits from pseudoephedrine restrictions, which I've written about fairly extensively on Grits. The argument contains within it an interesting set of economic assumptions, chief among them:
"The shift from a cottage industry to a well-run international business was good."
That's a fascinating statement because the "well-run international business" they're talking about are the Mexican drug cartels who're responsible for thousands of murders in Mexico and number among the most ruthless organized crime gangs on the planet.
Still, it'd be hard to deny the Gulf, Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels are "well-run" businesses in some sense. They certainly seem constantly six steps ahead of governments on both sides of the border. But normally in The Economist you might expect the definition of a "well-run" business to include, at a minimum, legal status for major market players.
I also agree it's a good thing that "amateur meth cooks were no longer setting fire to their children," though the flip side to that is that it was pretty easy for the cartels to add meth to their distribution mix, so the policy inflated cartel profits and gave them a lot more money in the very short term to buy more guns to fight Mexican government troops.
If in the near future the US dumps to $1.4 billion into Mexico to aid that fight, as the President has proposed, US policies will in essence be financing both sides of the fight.
I also find interesting the analysis that "Moving people onto other, slightly less harmful drugs is no bad thing." I agree. However, where is the ordered list public policymakers can rely on to decide which drugs are safer than others? Given all the hype a few years ago about the dangers of crack, when shifting drug users TO crack cocaine has been re-defined as a public policy success, that's an interesting moment.
The argument reminds me of the Colorado-based group - SAFER - that won a municipal referendum in Denver based on the campaign theme that marijuana is "safer than alcohol," but it's especially odd to see the argument made when the "safer" drug is crack cocaine.
This Economist article is definitely moving the bar for what we're supposed to define as "success" in the drug war. We've come a long way from "Just say no."