“Owing to total prohibition, the price of opium has risen enormously. The Commonwealth gladly gave up about 60,000 pounds of revenue with a view to supression of the evil, but the result has not been what has been hoped for. What now appears to be the effect of total prohibition is that, while we have lost the duty, the opium is still imported pretty freely.”
WRITING to the Australian parliament in 1908, the commonwealth customs comptroller-general HP Wollaston was highlighting the futility of banning drugs (in this case opium) in 1906.
Earlier this week, think tank Australia21 published a report arguing that Australia spends “considerable sums” in policing illicit drugs but “there is very little evidence to support the view that Australian taxpayers are getting a good return”.
That is putting it mildly.
The economic costs of prohibiting drugs are difficult to measure but massive, and the federal government forgoes significant tax revenues to boot.
And as in Wollaston’s time, prohibitions have not been especially effective either.
Ever since Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in 1971, prompting parallel efforts worldwide, use of every sort of illicit substance has increased in Australia.