The Economics of Drug Dealers

Ireland is number 1 in the EU for cocaine usage and 2nd highest for MDMA. Geographically it's a dream spot for smuggling. There's access to the Atlantic Sea, access to the United Kingdom via land through Northern Ireland, and close proximity to other countries. There's especially a lack of security for ship and submarine smuggling. Drug dealers prey on people with poor mental health, and vulnerable populations with disabilities. Ireland's mental health and disability services are struggling with demand leading to some of the highest rates of mental health problems in the EU. Homelessness doesn't help with Ireland having some of the highest housing costs with some of the lowest population densities. Some people take drugs just to try and feel warm or to help fall asleep when homeless.

Another serious problem is legislation. When drugs are made illegal, dealers seek out scapecoats who can take the risk of getting caught. They recruit vulnerable people to smuggle and deal drugs on their behalf. This can include people with disabilities, and people who are underage. The average age of drug runners in Dublin is about 12 years of age. Government policies and legislation are therefore resulting in an incentive for more people to be recruited into crime. When drugs are made illegal it increases their value on the black market economy. It's simple supply and demand economics. When supply is restricted, demand value goes up. Drug dealers are therefore profiting more because of government policy in this area.

Countries that take a healthcare approach to drugs get better results in every category than countries that take a criminal approach. If drug dealers can't make a profit then there's no financial incentive to get people addicted to drugs. There's less incentive to spike people. They have less money to fund other forms of crime. There's less incentive to resort to crime to fuel an addiction if drugs are legal. People are more likely to be rehabilitated if the ones providing drugs are the health services encouraging rehabilitation. Violence goes down, community safety goes up, and healthcare costs go down. When drugs are decriminalised stigma goes down. Decriminalisation of drugs mean people are more likely to be open about their problems and seek help when they need it. Access to injection centres stops people from sharing needles undermining the spread of disease.

Marijuana is a common drug easily available throughout the country. It is not physically addictive. By itself, it is documented as not being a gateway drug. However, based on my experience doing intervention work, it is a social gateway to drug dealers, and they in turn are a gateway to other drugs. When understanding drug dealing, it is important to understand the social and cultural dynamics of dealers. Drug dealers often unwittingly take advantage of what is called the 'Bridge Effect'. In one famous psychology study, participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of a researcher in the middle of scary bridge or at the safety of the other side of the bridge. In the middle of the bridge people's heart rate was higher and people gave higher attraction ratings to the researcher. The findings indicate that people can misattribute their feelings. In the case of drug dealers, this implies that dealers can be associated with the positive feelings of a recreational high. I have heard drug dealers marketing themselves as doing "community service" and spreading disinformation about health and legal authorities. Their social status in different sub-cultures needs to be undermined.

If marijuana alone were legalised it would cripple large parts of the black market economy, and could raise significant tax revenue needed for other services including drug rehabilitation. There are countless different strains of marijuana but it would be enough to legalise certain variations of the plant and related products e.g., edibles to undermine damage to lungs from mixing it with tobacco. THC is associated with the high that marijuana gives. However, high concentrations and proportions of THC can counterintuitively ruin the recreational effect. People develop a tolerance and need more to get the same effect so dealers can sell more. Therefore drug dealers breed variations of the plant to have high THC and lower levels of CBD to counter some effects of THC. Synthetic THC (or Spice) is sometimes sprayed on product by dealers. This is extremely dangerous, and can lead to serious health problems including death. Regulated legal marijuana would undermine this danger to the community, undermine the income of dealers, and undermine their social power in sub-cultures. It would also free up resources for law enforcement that are desperately needed elsewhere (ask any member of Garda Síochána how they feel about this). The plant also has huge potential for certain research and medical purposes e.g., Canada customises compounds in the plant to treat specific forms of epilepsy. However, legal exemptions in Ireland are limited to very few conditions, and incredibly slow to process. Doctors in many cases only get a single slide in a presentation about marijuana during the entirety of their education. Doctors who do independent research in the area are often fearful of sharing their opinions publicly. Even if you're still against marijuana, the drug is widely available anyway so legalisation would create some control as opposed to none.

Ireland needs to sort out it's drug legislation urgently. For a variety of reasons there might be a heroin shortage in the future. This is going to increase the likelihood of Fentanyl becoming more widespread. It is 100 times more potent than morphine. It destroys communities. Different services do not have the capacity to help people with drug addictions already so action is needed before things get even worse. Imagine if you were suicidal and a suicide prevention service sent you away in your most desperate hour of need because they don't have the expertise or facilities. It can traumatise people in an already vulnreable state. I'm happy to help people but I'm not happy to have had to do extra work because of certain services. People sometimes share experiences and it means people are sometimes less likely to seek support when they need it. This in turn undermines the accuracy of statistics in such organisations creating what's known as a sampling bias. As bad as the statistics already seem, the situation in Ireland is much worse than it first appears. Criminalisation sounds good, it sounds simple and easy: drug dealers are bad therefore they should be made illegal and punished. However, criminalisation in practise doesn't work. Academic research has shown this across countries and relevant disciplines. It is important not to confuse moral idealism with moral pragmatism. Talk to any competent researcher in this area and they will tell you that research across the world shows that the healthcare approach is what works. Drug dealers need to be undermined before things get worse. Compassion is our best weapon against the black market economy.

The current approach to drugs in Ireland has objectively not worked. The first step to solving a problem is admitting we have one. Again, we're number 1 in cocaine use. That stuff causes serious medical and social problems ranging from erectile dysfunction and anger to heart and lung problems. This is costing tax payers a fortune. It is in everyone's interest to reduce the burden on our legal and healthcare systems. If you want things to change, spread this information. Inform your friends and family, mention it on social media, and reach out to your politicians: Do not vote for any politician that spreads misinformation and tries to oversimplify this issue. Let them know that inaction is manslaughter.

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Healthcare money photograph by Marek Studzinski from unsplash

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