• Hilary Arnow
  • University of Chicago economist Jim Leitzel: “I don’t like the idea of putting people in prison for wanting to consume a drug.”

The drug warriors fought back this week. In separate statements, a United Nations agency and a group of former DEA chiefs called on the Obama administration to thwart the marijuana-legalization laws approved by voters in Washington and Colorado last fall. The UN says the new policies violate international treaties, while the former drug czars believe it’s critical that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder file suit before legalization spreads to other states. “Keeping drugs illegal reduces their availability and lessens willingness to use them,” the czars argue. Holder said Wednesday that he’ll announce a policy “relatively soon.”

In Jim Leitzel’s view, the laws of economics should lead us to a far different approach—one that recognizes demand and lets people consume drugs, even hard drugs, while using regulations to limit abuse. “Prohibition is not devoid of logic,” he says, “but the logic is very flawed.”

Leitzel teaches public policy and economics at the University of Chicago, specializing in the economics of vice and rule breaking. We sat down to talk about drugs and illegal markets.