On boycotting cocaine

This idea came up again this week, as I saw a number of people link to this article: Boycott Cocaine by Miles Hunt at Unharm, as a response to the devastating violence of the criminal drug market.

Morally we must boycott cocaine just as you’d boycott meat from any farmer that killed their livestock in a horribly gruesome way, or any company that refused to pay wages.

The solution to this problem is through abstinence as individuals until Governments deal with this problem properly by regulation

First, I will say that this is far superior to the absurd notions from some prohibitionists that getting everyone to abstain is a viable answer instead of legalization/regulation. That’s an argument that we’ve consistently debunked here at the Rant.

This is simply saying that prohibition is bad, it needs to be eliminated, but in the meantime we should encourage people to change their consumption habits to reduce the amount of money feeding criminal violence.

Sounds good. But it won’t work.

First of all, it’s important to understand how and when boycotts work. If you read the studies (check out the work of Brayden King), you quickly come to realize that boycotts almost never affect the bottom line. They work when the company being boycotted doesn’t want to be connected with the bad publicity related to the boycott (ie, use of slave labor, environmental damage, etc.).

But violent criminal drug organizations don’t care a bit about the bad publicity, so no boycott is going to affect them in that way.

Second, in those rare situations where a boycott works, there is usually a consumer choice (shop at a different company, buy local, etc.). This isn’t available in the cocaine market.

Third, there are natural changes in markets all the time. Over the past decades, there have been huge shifts – the explosion of cocaine use in the U.S. and then a dramatic reduction over years, with a shift in increased use elsewhere in the world. As long as the black market is in control, it adjusts to those variances seamlessly. Any affect from a boycott would be a tiny blip in comparison.

Finally, there is a danger that a boycott will make people think that they are doing something to help when they’re making no difference at all, perhaps reducing the effort put into true drug policy reform.

Look, if you feel better by avoiding use of cocaine until you can purchase it without the taint of criminal violence, by all means do so. That’s a perfectly fine moral choice.

But don’t think that participating in a cocaine boycott is going to save lives, or reduce the need for your efforts to end prohibition.

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