America Is Now One of the Most Expensive Places on Earth to Get High
This all seems to run counter to the longstanding narrative that drugs are getting cheaper and more potent over time. In fact, the New York Times reported around this time last year that even meth was “purer, cheaper, and more lethal” than ever before. But according to Greg Midgette, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland and expert on drug markets, there are a number of reasons the drug market may be behaving differently than we thought.
VICE: I feel as if the common conception is that drugs are cheaper and stronger than ever, thanks in part to trends toward legalization. What’s going on with these numbers? Forty percent in a year is astounding.
Greg Midgette: Yeah, 40 percent is astounding. I think there is a good chance that the index is capturing volatility in the underlying data for the US. If cities providing price data change over time, or if the average size of the purchase changes over time, either could swing prices dramatically. Prices can vary a lot from city to city, and quantity discounts can be really large for illegal drugs.
Prices have been declining in states’ recreational marijuana markets, and it would be tough to argue illicit market prices would increase substantially while states’ legal market prices were dropping. From the most recent publicly-available data from DEA through the end of 2016, cocaine and meth prices were decreasing. Heroin prices were up in 2016, but not by 40 percent. Other indicators of cocaine and meth use were up in 2017, which suggests prices might have increased. The 40 percent is still astounding though, especially if marijuana prices are flat or decreasing.