Legalization of drugs offers lessons for rhino horn trade

Uncertainty is one major factor for holding back the legalization of rhino horn trade. What will a legal market look like? An article this month in the New Yorker writes about the current efforts in the US to create a legal marijuana market. The article revolves around the work of policy academic Mark Kleiman, one of the most prominent advocates for liberalization of cannibis laws. It came as a surprise to me (but makes sense) to read that in the short run following legalization, you need more enforcement not less. In the long run however, he doesn’t see much of an illegal business surviving.

When legal marijuana goes on sale…the black market will not simply vanish, over-the-counter pot will have to compete with illicit pot. To support the legal markets, Kleiman argued, the state must intensify law-enforcement pressure on people who refuse to play by the new rules. A street dealer will have to be arrested in the hope that “you will migrate that dealer’s customers into the taxed-and-regulated market.”

Other issues covered include what happens to consumer use (goes up but the benefits are less public money spent on policing and incarceration), who retails, should advertising be allowed. In order to answer these diverse and difficult questions, Kleiman reiterates the need for a “rigourously empirical approach” to drug policy – the same holds for conservation policy, but seems absent in some of the decision-making about conservation.

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