How limes and unemployment tell us the war on drugs has to end

Two seemingly unconnected, but actually inextricably linked snippets of financial news appeared last week.

First, that the price of a lime has risen 300% in the last month in California. And second, that the labour participation rate for men between  25 and 54 in the US is staying stubbornly low at 88%. Back in 1964 it was 97%.

The link is the global war on drugs.

The price of limes has risen as a result of the changing behaviour of Mexico’s drug cartels. The fall in the participation rate is connected to the fact that so many American men have been convicted one way and another of drug-related offences.

You can’t participate in the labour force when you are in jail. And it is very hard to get a job when you leave jail.

The US locks up its people “at five times the UK rate and ten times that in Scandinavia. The result? “We have been generating people with criminal records pretty solidly for going on 30 years,” John Schmitt an economist at the Centre for Economics and Policy Research in Washington told the FT last week.

Today, more than one in 15 American men has a criminal record (12 to 14 million people). So, even if the (clearly failing) war on drugs were cancelled tomorrow, “the share of the labour force with a criminal record will remain very high for a long time.” The result being a total US employment rate that is 0.8-0.9 percentage points lower than it would be otherwise.

I keep meaning to write more on this, and I will soon. But I do think that it must be clear to pretty much everyone by now that the West’s policies on drug use are hopelessly wrong – that’s why, as the FT puts it, “left and right in the US seem ready to think again on drugs policy”, and why you can now “smoke pot, ski hot” in Colorado. And it isn’t just a discussion taking off in the US.

Here, Nigel Farage (as is often the case) says what the others won’t say clearly: “I personally think that the war on drugs was lost many, many years ago and that the lives of millions of people in Britain are being made miserable” by its effects.

It needs, he says, radical reform – by which he means that at least some drugs should be legalised. But even if the others won’t come out and say it quite so firmly, there are hints that the establishment is beginning to grasp the extent of the failure of policy so far.

Durham’s chief constable noted that criminalising drugs does nothing but “put billions of pounds into the pockets of criminal gangs”, and even Nick Clegg has said that “if you are anti drugs, you should be pro reform”.

More on this coming, but anyone interested in the arguments for the legalisation and taxation of what is currently the most unregulated and also the most profitable business in the world should read Dr Max Rendall’s book on the subject – Legalise: The Only Way to Combat Drugs.


  • Sane

    We already have two legal drugs. Alcohol and tobacco. They cause far more harm in the UK than do illegal drugs.

  • Subsidiser

    There are drugs and there are drugs, I wouldn’t place alcohol or tobacco in the same category as cannabis, heroin or cocaine. I fear these latter-named as they do cause mayhem and sorrow, crime without limit and the enrichment of the most undeserving characters in the world today. Government policies on these drugs are wrong, agreed, but only because they are far too soft and we all know why. It is because the ruling class are hard into these recreational drugs themselves.

  • Stuartx47

    Look at prohibition in 1930’s america. It made a fortune for tthe mobsters. Legalise drugs, tax the profits only allow people to collect their own drugs. Put up large rewards for turning in anyone who passes drugs they have collected onto anyone else, even if it’s a free gift. Take all the persons assets who does that so there is no incentive to do it. Put up even largere rewards for anyone who gives drugs to children, payable to the child so no one will want to take the risk. Don’t allow Foreigners to collect drugs here or we would have a lot of drug addicts coming in.

  • One of many

    Indeed. Cannabis has a particularly noxious side effect – it allows people to notice their actual relationship with the world, and prioritize it over the ideal one imposed by authority and tradition.

    Now obviously we can’t control the scum if they willfully reject accepted wisdom! Surely they will descend to the level of the beasts, overload the welfare system, and then either perish or survive on their primitive uneducated instincts.

    And where will that leave US, with the masses greedily eying our wealth and utterly unfriendly to our rights over it. Utterly unfriendly. Friendship – human kindness – where will we be when it’s gone?! So, cut off their hands I say! In the name of friendship.