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About the nonsense and the cost of repression

Trying to enforce a ban costs money. Two studies attempt to quantify the expense. We compare the two approaches. And we ask ourselves: Is it worth the effort? Or is it simply throwing money out the window? One thing is clear: a lot of money is at stake.

According to the Narcotics Act, handling THC products is completely prohibited for almost everyone. The police and the judiciary rely on this, and produce around 40,000 convictions in this area every year. The prosecution of the handlers and the consumers should not be an end in itself. The purpose of this effort is to increase the cost of dealing or consuming in such a way that neither dealing nor consuming is worthwhile. Thus, there should be less (or preferably no) THC products on the market, and THC users should be deterred from consumption by repression. However, comparisons between countries with different levels of repression show that the strength of prosecution has practically no influence on how many people have ever used THC products. This lifetime prevalence is, for example, much lower in Holland (where consumption and trade are largely tolerated) than in Switzerland.

The benefit of consumption

In other words, people use THC because it makes them feel very good. The consumption of THC therefore brings the users an improvement in their life situation. Consumption is not irrational, but reasonable and brings an increase in the enjoyment of life. Therefore, the users are quite insensitive to the persecution measures. “Legal, illegal, who gives a shit” is still the motto for many.

The nonsense of repression

Studies show that a doubling of repressive measures leads to a reduction in consumption of around 16%, and a doubling of fines leads to a reduction in consumption of only 0.8%. Although the number of convictions for THC use has been increasing for years, the number of people who have already used is also increasing. Thus, repression does not result in fewer people coming into contact with THC products. It seems to be the case that the more people are reported, the more people consume… Or vice versa, the more people use, the more people are reported. One can understand the numbers in both ways. But for both views it is true: Repression is simply pointless, because it clearly misses its goal (to reduce supply and demand). However, it does not come for free, but costs money. Money that taxpayers have to pay. Money that is lacking in other places and could do something useful there.

The first study

According to the 1st study, the costs for the prosecution of THC use can be estimated as follows for the year 2003. In 2003, the police forces of the various cantons and municipalities (excluding traffic police) spent about 3.4 billion francs. With this money, the police forces processed about 380,000 criminal cases. Of these, 37,000 are THC-related offenses, or about 10%. This corresponds to at least 340 million francs. However, since there are no victims of THC use and trafficking who have an interest in reporting (as with most other crimes) and alerting the police to the crimes, the police must actively seek out the offenders. The effort for this proactive approach is estimated in the first study to be 2.5 times in relation to another report (where, after all, a report by an aggrieved party often triggers the prosecution ). Thus, the various police forces spend as much as about 821 million francs each year on the prosecution of THC use. In addition to the cantonal police forces, the federal government also spends around 300 million francs on repression. Of this, one fifth is spent on drug repression, of which about 80% is spent on THC repression. This adds up to a further cost of around 47 million francs. The expenses for the judiciary are added to this, the total for the whole of Switzerland amounts to 1.3 billion. Criminal justice, which is relevant for us here, consumes about 30% of this, of which about 25% is for THC repression. This results in about 97 million francs for THC repression. The penal system (both the actual sentences to be served and pre-trial detention, prisoner transport, etc.) needs about 771 million per year. Even though unconditional sentences in the THC area are not very frequent, it is assumed that about 75 million are spent on our area (about 10%). According to the first study, the total amount spent on THC repression in Switzerland in 2003 was over one billion francs.

The second study

The Federal Council's message on the initiative also mentions the costs of repression. It says: “The costs of repressive measures in 2003 amounted to an estimated 74.8 to 106.5 million francs.” So how does the administration come up with these much lower figures? To find out, we organized and read the second study that calculated these amounts. Although it mostly assumes the same basic figures, it arrives at much lower amounts because of other assumptions. In general, this study excludes from the outset all referrals that are not exclusively about THC use or trafficking, but also other illegal offenses (theft, for example). In addition, it is assumed here that a report for THC consumption only accounts for one fifth of the time of a report for hard drugs. This puts the value for police spending at only about 60 million francs. A second estimate of the study (simply 20 percent of the total costs for the prosecution of illegal narcotics) comes to the slightly higher value of about 90 million francs. To this must be added the costs of the non-cantonal police forces: Border police, other security services and federal police agencies. This adds up to another three to five million francs. The second study puts the court costs at just under seven million francs. But here, too, court cases involving other criminal acts are simply omitted altogether. In the penal system, even only one percent of the total drug costs are included, which does not add up to four million francs. The costs of miscellaneous items (prisoner transport, etc.) are also estimated at one percent, which adds up to another million. Intotal, the second study arrives at 74.8 to 106.5 million francs, which are spent annually on THC repression. This is a good ten times less than in the first study.

What is true now?

The second study certainly underestimates the costs. Just by excluding all court cases and referrals that have to do with other than THC, it obviously underestimates a part of the costs. Because even if the other offenses have to be prosecuted under legal THC conditions, each report, each individual offense needs its processing time. And thus it causes costs. This study, however, has a special approach: It wants to quantify the potential savings that could result from legalization and virtually adds up the “net costs”. The first study, on the other hand, tries to calculate the total costs as full costs, quasi as “gross costs”. In doing so, it seems to me to take a much more well-founded approach than the second. The police costs are perhaps somewhat overestimated here, the factor 2.5 could be too high. Our calculations (in the box on page 4) indicate an amount between the two studies. What is very certain, however, is that our state spends hundreds of millions francs annually on THC repression! And: In any case, a lot of money is spent on repression without any socially useful results.

Who benefits from the current situation, who from legalization?

The THC illegality benefits a part of the repressive organs (only thanks to the prohibition they receive their wages) and the dealers (only thanks to the illegality they are in business). So both groups have a common economic interest in today's illegality. THC users and society, on the other hand, have a great common interest in legalization. For the users: The quality would be better; there would be no more prosecution. For society: The costs of consumption would be paid by the users themselves and no longer by the general public; less tax money would be needed for the police; there would be less crime.

Taxation instead of repression!

It would therefore be much more advantageous for society if THC products were legalized and taxed at the level of the actual costs: This would eliminate the costs of state repression (the costs of control would be passed on to the legalized trade), and the social costs of consumption would be recovered through the taxation of stimulants. In addition, one takes away the basis of the whole criminal energy, which is connected with the THC-trade today. This would make it impossible for criminal gangs to get rich from the trade and invest the money in further crime (terrorism, mafia structures). Today, on the other hand, the senseless and ineffective repression makes these money flows possible in the first place and is complicit in them. The whole society, not only the consumers, would be better off with a legalization.

Study 1 Baumann, Sheron. Economic analysis of the Swiss cannabis market. Licentiate thesis at the University of Bern, 2006.
Study 2 Jeanrenaud, Claude. Initiative populaire fédérale “Pour une politique raisonnable en matière de chanvre protégeant efficacement la jeuneusse,” Analyse de l'impact économique. Institut de recherches économique, Université de Neuchâtel, 2006.

Our own account

We try to make our own estimate of the costs from practical experience. Each report for THC use must be detected (assumption: this takes an average of one hour patrol by two officers), then the person must be stopped, checked, questioned and made to sign the protocol. Occasionally, a ride-along to the post and a strip search must also be arranged. In addition, a report must be prepared, the confiscated items must be filed and later destroyed, the business check must be done (assumption: on average two hours of work for two officers). Then a summary penalty order has to be formulated and drawn up, sent out and the collection supervised and occasionally debt collection and the like organized (assumption: one hour's work). In total, this adds up to seven hours, multiplied by 35,735 reprimands (year 2005), multiplied by 150 francs (estimated total cost of one police working hour) thus adds up to 37.5 million francs. (The cost of training, meetings, work materials, documentation, vacations, and the like are included in the full cost assumptions above). For the 3,322 referrals for THC trafficking, we estimate 415 hours per case (general/dossier management 20, personal and telephone monitoring 70, translations 10, subpoenas 5, interviews of defendants and witnesses 40, house searches and raids 80, pre-trial detention 20, arraignment 20, court sessions of all instances incl. preparation 100, execution 50). Thus, 415 x 150 x 3,322 = about 207 million francs. Thus, we estimate the total cost to be at least 250 million francs per year, which is between the two studies cited.

The nonsense of the THC ban

In other words, a market that generates around one billion francs per year (for this estimate, see Legalize it! issue 38, page 6) is being fought with hundreds of millions of tax francs per year. This should then be a good example of proportional nonsense. The amount of the social costs of THC consumption is about 189 million francs per year, if one assumes that per consumed joint costs are similar to the costs for the consumption of a cigarette. However, the black market does not cover these costs at all. Society has to pay these costs in addition to the repression costs. This makes the repression against THC finally absurd:

- First, it does not reduce the contact with THC products.

- Secondly, it costs hundreds of millions francs per year.

- Third, the social costs of consumption are lower than the repression costs.

Thus, more money is spent to fight the “evil” than it actually costs. And in doing so, one does not even achieve a reduction of this “problem”, which the people concerned themselves experience as something highly pleasant.

en/thc_recht/li400405.txt · Last modified: 2022/03/26 16:23 (external edit)
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