Drug Policy

'It's Almost Becoming a Better Market Than Drugs'

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California's experiment with tobacco prohibition, which so far is confined to the state's correctional institutions, has had exactly the results you'd expect: skyrocketing prices (up to $125 a pack), widespread smuggling, official corruption, and black market violence. The Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman notes that he (along with everyone who has ever taken an economics course) saw this coming. Time for another prediction: How will California respond to the black market it has created? Will it a) repeal the ban, b) crack down on smuggling and increase penalties for tobacco possession, or c) extend the ban to the rest of the state?

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  1. “It’s Almost Becoming a Better Market Than Drugs”

    It is drugs.

  2. Can I get B & C? And another B, statewide?

    After all, anyone who’s taken a history course…

  3. The fact that there is a black market is not proof that the system isn’t working. Better there be a black market than that there be copious amounts of tobacco lying about. Smoking rates are sure to be cut back when tobacco is $125/pack. That’s the whole point. The higher the price goes, the more smoking will be cut back. That’s a good thing.

  4. Okay, here’s my question on this: $125 a pack? Really? I mean, cigarettes aren’t that awesome, and by the time one has saved up enough money to afford a pack, he’s probably not addicted anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with your premise, but seriously, this is ridiculous.

  5. It seems like you’d want prisoners to be able to smoke whenever they wanted, if for no other reason than to keep them mellowed out and in a decent mood.

  6. “Will it a) repeal the ban, b) crack down on smuggling and increase penalties for tobacco possession, or c) extend the ban to the rest of the state?”

    Being California, the only U.S. State seriously considering a ban on Edison’s most prized invention, it will probably go with “C” thus creating an odd situation where weed is legal but tobaco cigarets are not. This will make about as much sense as anything else going on in the former-golden state.

  7. jhupp-

    Yeah, I’m wondering where inmates get $125. I mean, I’m sure that higher-level gang bosses and white collar criminals have no problem getting that cash, either from outside reserves, by extorting it from other inmates in exchange for “protection”, or by running some sort of racket or scam with the guards. But I doubt your average inmate is paying that much. I assume the typical price is significantly lower.

    And as far as Dan T.’s point, I want prisoners with diminished lung capacity. That way, if they do escape they won’t be able to run far. (You guys have seen “Prison Break”, right? If those inmates had been smokers there’s no way they would have outrun the cops!)

  8. Arctic Penguin,

    You will soon be reminded that pot smoke is the only non-lung-damaging smoke there is. Even second hand pot smoke. Also, tobacco smoke kills like the plague and everybody who has been around it dies of lung cancer very quickly.

    Oh, and the rea gem is that folks like us have heard too many fairy tails about pot and that we believe nonsense.

  9. Along the lines of Captain Koons’ watch in Pulp Fiction, if they were smuggling in loosies, it wouldn’t be nearly as painful but I’m pretty sure the aftertaste would be a turn-off.

    Smuggling in a whole pack (especially a hard pack) would hurt like a sonofabitch.

  10. Thoreau, I suspect that the barter system is primarily at work in the prisons.

  11. It shows how bizzare the nanny state mentality is. Think about it. California is the most liberal state in America. If there is any state that would buy into the humane treatment of prisoners and making life in the joing easy, it is California. These same people who would go to the matresses to ensure that inmates have the right to sue the man over their coffee being too hot are also the ones who create a policy that tortures these poor guys by depriving them of cigs and making them pay $125 and God knows what kind of “personal” services just to have a smoke.

  12. ChrisO-

    Yeah, but at some point the goods or services being bartered have to be converted into cash if they’re going to get somebody on the outside to buy the smokes and assume the risks associated with delivery. So I’m skeptical that the going rate is $125.

  13. The price is not the problem. The violence and the corruption of the prison guards is the problem.

  14. This just seems to be begging for prison riots. I know how irritable my smoker friends and I get when we are forced to go without cigarettes. Add to that the mentality of a convicted felon, and being stuck ina jail cell. Christ.

  15. “Yeah, but at some point the goods or services being bartered have to be converted into cash if they’re going to get somebody on the outside to buy the smokes and assume the risks associated with delivery. So I’m skeptical that the going rate is $125.”

    If I am a prison guard making say $18,000 a year the price wouldn’t have to be that high to tempt me. Even at $50 a pack, a carton on $20 packs would go for a $1,000 and cost probably a hundred or so. Two cartons a month and I more than double my salary and that still gives the rats I sell it to the chance to more than double their money with the street rate.

  16. I don’t have a big problem with inmate tobacco prohibition. Here’s why:

    1. All of inmates’ medical care is paid by the taxpayers.
    2. I am a taxpayer.

    See if you can see where I’m going with this.
    When we have private prisons, ok, let ’em smoke, but I don’t want to pay for Johnny B. A. Killa’s medical bills when he gets cancer for his 2 pack a day habit.

  17. I suspect the $125-per-pack price is calculated just like the street price of any drug seizure: Take the smallest end-user purchase and multiply. I think cigs come 25 to a pack, so that’s a single cigarette price of $5. I suppose it could happen.

  18. Andy-By the same token, if a guy with a life sentence lives an extra ten years, you end up paying for that as well.

  19. Oh, and fellow commenters? Read carefully. The important phrase is “up to $125 a pack.” In other words, someone, somewhere, paid $125 for a pack of smokes. It does not mean that $125 is the median price, or anything close to it.

  20. “When we have private prisons, ok, let ’em smoke, but I don’t want to pay for Johnny B. A. Killa’s medical bills when he gets cancer for his 2 pack a day habit.”

    Yeah but if he is a lifer, he saves us money by dying an early quick death from lung cancer. Better him die at 60 after a six month battle with lung cancer than live to be 80 and die a long expensive death from say Alzheimers.

  21. Guy Montag, just for the record, I oppose the war on drugs.

  22. I think cigs come 25 to a pack,

    It’s 20.

  23. Antarctic Penguin,

    So do I. Don’t be so defensive about it.

  24. “Even at $50 a pack, a carton on $20 packs would go for a $1,000 and cost probably a hundred or so.”

    obviously you’ve never bought a carton if you think there are twenty packs in there… which leads me to my next conclusion, a bunch of non-smoking people imposing their wills on other people.

    Why not start with the people that we already own? We’ll impose our standards of life on them first, then when we start telling everyone what they aren’t allowed to do, they’ll take it a little easier,

    “well, at least we got to smoke a few years longer than the imates…”

    Option C seems like a great way to get the majority on our side, and then once we have them eating out of the palms of our non-nicotine stained hands we’ll ban the sale of milk, because I don’t like milk, and nobody else should either. Besides, cows stink and make my clothes smell, and inhaling methane can be hazardous to my health, even if I’m not the cow.

  25. Wade,

    I never endorsed this policy and think its so stupid as to be beyond belief. And no I don’t smoke and frankly whether I or anyone else does is pretty irrelevent.

  26. Probably he meant 125 a carton.

  27. So what about the guys on Death Row? They’re not letting them smoke either? Because smoking might kill them, right?

  28. If you think about it, if you are selling them by the cig you might get up to $125 a pack. That is only about $7 a cig. If you are in an environment where it is hard to smuggle in large numbers, the price might go that high. I will ask the smokers, if you were jonesing bad enough for a fix and you didn’t have anything else to spend your money on, would $7 for one smoke every day seem that high, when the alternative is to not smoke at all?

  29. There are 20 cigs to a pack, and ten packs to a carton. Which brings me to this story I haven’t told in twenty years.

    I took up smoking in the Navy, [long story deleted] One day my shipmate and I were on the beach. He opens up a brand new box of Marlboro lights. Just then some guy comes up and asks “Excuse me, have you got an extra cigarette?”

    To which my buddy replies “I don’t know, let me look”. And he flips up the box top, looks in, and mumbles under his breath “1, 2, 3…. 19”. Then he holds up the cig he just lit and says “Twenty! Nope, sorry, no extra”.

    Then the guy said “Asshole” and stomped off.

  30. If smoking kills then letting prisoners smoke saves money. Also you can sell the cigs thru the canteen at a larcenous mark up. With agressive three strikes laws we need all the prison smoking we can encourage, just to avoid a geriatric prison population. If these people want the cancer, let em have it.

  31. I think cigs come 25 to a pack, =>It’s 20.

    When I smoked (jeeze, 10 years now) Marlboro would occasionally sell packs of 25. It was a sweet, sweet day. They would just fit in my t-shirt pocket.

  32. You know, if inmate cigarette smugglers took all the business lessons that they learned from their trade and applied these lessons to some other line of work, they’d probably be really successful on the outside.

    Then again, perhaps they’d take up white collar crime and wind up right back where they started…

  33. thoreau,

    You know, if inmate cigarette smugglers took all the business lessons that they learned from their trade and applied these lessons to some other line of work, they’d probably be really successful on the outside.

    They already do that on the outside in many cases. Like smuggling cigarettes from low tax States to high tax States, selling contraband, counterfeiting, etc.

    It is the stuff they learn in prison that is legal outside, like running a laundry or janatorial work they don’t seem to want to apply.

  34. You will soon be reminded that pot smoke is the only non-lung-damaging smoke there is.

    Ummmm…not sure this is correct Guy. My pipe back in college was full of black tarry stuff (even though it was filled with the kindest), which I can only assume also ends up in my lungs when I inhale. I can’t imagine that it doesn’t damage my lungs. I’ll agree with you that it isn’t as damaging as a cigarette addiction, but inhaling smoke of any kind isn’t typically good for your lungs.

  35. Dear John,

    what I’m trying to say in my most smart-alec manner is that when the will of the many is imposed on the few there is injustice.

    I chose to stop smoking pot, and it wasn’t because it was illegal, expensive, immoral, or because it offended others. I chose to stop because it was my choice.

  36. You can sing it in a song
    You can smoke it in a bong
    Smokin’ pot pot pot pot pot

  37. … ergo, non-smokers talking about smoking bans is silly to me…

  38. I will ask the smokers, if you were jonesing bad enough for a fix and you didn’t have anything else to spend your money on, would $7 for one smoke every day seem that high, when the alternative is to not smoke at all?

    As an ex smoker — I would say yes — some people would do it. It would seem high, but if that’s all I could get I would pay.

    One of the first times I “quit” smoking (and failed) when I would get a really bad urge I would go and buy a pack (since there was no one to bum on off of) and smoke 1 (maybe two) and then throw the pack away / destroy it.

    Even now, I still smoke one here and there, and I am willing to buy a pack smoke one (like when we are drinking) and give the rest to a buddy who smokes.

    I dunno if I would do it every day, but I would do it on occasion.

  39. You will soon be reminded that pot smoke is the only non-lung-damaging smoke there is.

    The carcinogens in pot smoke is just as bad, if not worse, and it is unfiltered. But it’s a difference of degree of exposure. Most people don’t smoke one joint in one sitting all alone whereas within an hour a smoker could easily smoke 5-7 whole cigs depending on the circumstance.

    And usually cigs are smoked more regularly than weed.

  40. The fact that there is a black market is not proof that the system isn’t working.

    Indeed. IF the goal was to generate a black market, then the system is surely working.

    Better there be a black market than that there be copious amounts of tobacco lying about. Smoking rates are sure to be cut back when tobacco is $125/pack. That’s the whole point. The higher the price goes, the more smoking will be cut back. That’s a good thing.

    Right! The same case with the drug prohibition – the costlier it is to buy smack, the more the abuse of drugs will decline! Wonderful praxeological insight!

    Except. . . it does not work that way. Prihibitions do NOT work, Klaus.

  41. “If I am a prison guard making say $18,000 a year…”

    Then you surely don’t live in California where the prison guard union controls the state.

  42. Thoreau – I did once hear of an ex-con who’d once been a big drug smuggler. He wanted to go clean, but wasn’t sure what he could do, until it hit him… He pitched himself to companies as “former manager of 200+ employee international commodity trading firm, experienced with operations, finance, and personnel management” and sure enough he did get hired by a shipping firm. Wish I had a cite for it.

  43. JD-

    Pete McWilliams, in his book “Ain’t nobody’s business if you do”, claimed that drug cartels hire MBA graduates. Probably no easy way to verify this, but it would’t be terribly shocking if big operations hire the best and the brightest to launder their money.

  44. I have a solution. RJ Reynolds needs to sponsor weekly extra-violent prison rodeos where the winners earn the right to smoke with impunity. Everyone wins.

  45. That’s going to be a reality TV show, right Mr. Nice Guy?

  46. So, what you’re saying is, the drug war, which we all say is a farce is… expanding to every corner of our society… despite the clear evidence that it causes damage. Yet this drug war continues to expand. Not shrink.

    So, what’s the logic here? I mean, what’s the hope that my fellow libertarians have on this? And I’m really asking, not being sarcastic. I have said in thread after thread that the drug war is here to stay, with a capital HERE. Do we (the royal we) hope that the drug war will expand to every corner of our lives and suddenly, we’ll realize the error of our ways and it’ll all come crashing down? Are we taking the same view that some pro abortion activists have taken, that abortion must be banned again to refresh the public consciousness about the horrors of illegal abortion?

    The drug war is here to stay, and anyone with an idea– a credible idea is certainly welcome to refute that. But personally, I don’t see any hope, any light at the end of the tunnel– that the Drug War is going away, or even scaling back. At least as long as it has bedrock support in both major political parties.

    They did tell you guys that being a libertarian was going to be a lifetime of political disappointments, didn’t they?

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