A sure sign of a failing policy of repression is the constant need to make it ever more repressive; to widen its scope and to make it less dependent on evidence. The moral panic over the the past week with mephedrone has put the misuse of drugs act under pressure like never before and those who support the idea of prohibition are calling for just the sort of broadening of scope and abandonment of evidence that characterises a failing policy.

Fact is the government really want to ban Mephedrone but because of the way the Misuse of Drugs Act works it requires evidence and so makes that impossible. The advisory body, the ACMD, hasn’t been able to do its work in large part due to the sacking of Prof David Nutt last year, which caused others to resign making the ACMD inquorate.

Of course, as we know with the cannabis debacle, having been given the evidence the government is under no obligation to take any notice of it but the act does require the evidence to be collected first. So the government is busy recruiting people to the ACMD who will then be able to sign off the official study which will allow the government to do what it wants, which is almost certain to be extending the Misuse of Drugs Act to prohibit Mephedrone.

But the drug warriors are claiming all this isn’t enough, what we need, they say, is a whole new approach whereby anything can be banned until such a time as the government says it’s legal. as Kathy Gyngell wrote in her Centre for Policy Studies blog

If the government is to retain any credibility it must react now. Alan Johnson must come out fighting again. He must bypass the archaic and abjuring ACMD and ignore their liberal sensitivities about using the criminal justice system for effective drugs law enforcement. He must give direct powers to the police, as is happening in Sweden, to detain any substance and to treat it as illegal for as long as it takes to investigate it.

This is seriously dangerous logic and would be a huge leap into the abyss of a police state. Prohibition is under threat due to the impracticality of dealing with the flood of new drugs coming onto the market designed to sidestep the prohibition legislation and so the only way to go is down the slippery slope towards authoritarian repression.

So now seems a good time to ask a simple question: How effective is prohibition at achieving its stated aims? The answer of course is not encouraging for people like Kathy Gyngell.

Regarding the level of violence associated with the illegal drug trade, this week saw the publication in Canada of a report entitled “Effect of Drug Law Enforcement on Drug-Related Violence: Evidence from a Scientific Review” – download it here. The study tested a simple hypothesis which is at the heart of the justification for the enforcement policy:

The hypothesis was that the existing scientific evidence would demonstrate an association between drug law enforcement expenditures or intensity and reduced levels of violence.

Now of course, that is a pretty fundamental reason for the enforcement, the whole justification for the policy is built on the fear of crime and the threat to society is poses. The results?

Contrary to our primary hypothesis, 13 (87%) studies reported a likely adverse impact of drug law enforcement on levels of violence. That is, most studies found that increasing drug law enforcement intensity resulted in increased rates of drug market violence. Notably, 9 of the 11 studies (82%) employing regression analyses of longitudinal data found a significant positive association between drug law enforcement increases and increased levels of violence. One study (9%) that employed a theoretical model reported that violence was negatively associated with increased drug law enforcement.

Whoops indeed. As Mark Haden note on his blog

The review concludes that the available scientific evidence suggests that drug law enforcement efforts will not meaningfully reduce drug supply or drug-related violence and may paradoxically increase violence in Canadian communities.

But at least prohibition is reducing the supply of drugs and allows us to know what the true picture is? Well, no it doesn’t do that either. The U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center issued its annual report entitled  “National Drug Threat Assessment 2010“. Americans do have a way with words, what this report is all about is the levels of availability of prohibited drugs in the US. Remembering that it’s nearly 40 years ago Richard Nixon introduced the “War on drugs”, it’s truly revealing to see just how little “progress” has been made. The cannabis – or marijuana as they call it – section is very revealing:

Marijuana is widely available, in part as a result of rising production in Mexico. The amount of marijuana produced in Mexico has increased an estimated 59 percent overall since 2003 (see Figure 14). Contributing to the increased production in Mexico is a decrease in cannabis eradication

There is less eradication going on in Mexico because

The reduction is the result of the Mexican military’s focus on antiviolence measures rather than illicit crop cultivation.

That “focus on antiviolence measures” actually means the open warfare and mass murder taking place close to the US boarder caused in large part by the smuggling of cannabis into the US. So despite spending greatly increased amounts of money trying to prevent the trade, more and more is getting through, more is being produced and the violence level is increasing.

The amount of marijuana produced domestically is unknown.

So much for “drug control” if they don’t even know something as basic as that. But anyway the lack of data doesn’t stop them coming up with some trends

However, eradication data and law enforcement reporting indicate that the amount of marijuana produced in the United States appears to be very high, based in part on the continual increases in the number of plants eradicated nationally. In fact, eradication of plants from both indoor and outdoor sites has more than doubled since 2004.

So increased smuggling and increased home production.

Marijuana is produced in the United States by various DTOs and criminal groups, including Caucasian, Asian, and Mexican groups, but Caucasian independents and criminal groups are well established in every region of the country and very likely produce the most marijuana domestically overall.  Mexican, Asian, and Cuban criminal groups and DTOs, in particular, pose an increasing threat in regard to domestic cultivation, since their cultivation activities often involve illegal immigrants and large-scale growing operations ranging from 100 to more than 1,000 plants per site. In addition, these groups appear to be expanding and shifting operations within the United States

All in all this report shows a failing regime, there is simply no other way to describe it. Best of all though is the footnote which admits:

No reliable estimates are available regarding the amount of domestically cultivated or processed marijuana. The amount of marijuana available in the United States–including marijuana produced both domestically and internationally–is unknown. Moreover, estimates as to the extent of domestic cannabis cultivation are not feasible because of significant variability in or nonexistence of data regarding the number of cannabis plants not eradicated during eradication seasons, cannabis eradication effectiveness, and plant-yield estimates.

In other words, they don’t really have much idea what’s going on despite spending eye watering amounts of money, locking up millions of people and causing mass murder in some areas of northern Mexico.

Prohibition is a disaster of massive proportions. Just how much real world evidence do they need?