The Associated Press has a thorough story looking at the utter failure in the War on Drugs. In part, this is a predictable result of government incompetence, akin to the War on Poverty. And just as the so-called War on Poverty has negative side effects such as increased dependency, the War on Drugs has negative said effects including lots of wasteful government spending. I’m personally very anti-drug, and if I ever catch any of my kids doing drugs, they’ll be sorry, but that doesn’t mean the government should be involved. Let’s look at some of the key excerpts from the article, beginning with a look at the overall cost and an admission that all the added spending hasn’t generated any positive results:
After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread. Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked. “In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. …President Richard M. Nixon seized on a new war he thought he could win. “This nation faces a major crisis in terms of the increasing use of drugs, particularly among our young people,” Nixon said as he signed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. The following year, he said: “Public enemy No. 1 in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.” His first drug-fighting budget was $100 million. Now it’s $15.1 billion, 31 times Nixon’s amount even when adjusted for inflation.
Experts who have looked at the issue say criminalization is bad policy, costing lives, expanding government, and misallocating law enforcement resources:
Using Freedom of Information Act requests, archival records, federal budgets and dozens of interviews with leaders and analysts, the AP tracked where that money went, and found that the United States repeatedly increased budgets for programs that did little to stop the flow of drugs. …Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse. …Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron says the only sure thing taxpayers get for more spending on police and soldiers is more homicides. “Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use,” Miron said, “but it’s costing the public a fortune.” …The dealers who are caught have overwhelmed justice systems in the United States and elsewhere. U.S. prosecutors declined to file charges in 7,482 drug cases last year, most because they simply didn’t have the time. That’s about one out of every four drug cases. ……A full 10 percent of Mexico’s economy is built on drug proceeds — $25 billion smuggled in from the United States every year, of which 25 cents of each $100 smuggled is seized at the border. \
The good news is that there is growing interest in a free-market/libertarian approach:
A decade ago, no politician who wanted to keep his job would breathe a word about legalization, but a consensus is growing across the country that at least marijuana will someday be regulated and sold like tobacco and alcohol. California voters decide in November whether to legalize marijuana, and South Dakota will vote this fall on whether to allow medical uses of marijuana, already permitted in California and 13 other states.
Unfortunately, Obama seems to have little interest in a more rational policy, even though he admits drug use when he was young. As usual, politicians get to live their lives using one set of rules while imposing a different set of rules on everyone else:
Obama is requesting a record $15.5 billion for the drug war for 2011, about two thirds of it for law enforcement at the front lines of the battle: police, military and border patrol agents struggling to seize drugs and arrest traffickers and users. …Until 100 years ago, drugs were simply a commodity. …In 1904, an Episcopal bishop returning from a mission in the Far East argued for banning opium after observing “the natives’ moral degeneration.” In 1914, The New York Times reported that cocaine caused blacks to commit “violent crimes,” and that it made them resistant to police bullets. …a young Barack Obama was one of those young users, a teenager smoking pot and trying “a little blow when you could afford it,” as he wrote in “Dreams From My Father.” When asked during his campaign if he had inhaled the pot, he replied: “That was the point.” So why persist with costly programs that don’t work?