The War On Drugs: A War On Who?
Okay, so let me see if I’ve got this straight: We’ve been fighting the so called “War On Drugs” for forty years. Yet, despite the fact that we spend nearly $100 billion a year on this “war”; despite the fact that we now have the highest incarceration rate in the world (yes the world; that means more than North Korea, Vietnam, Iran, and so on), with 20% of the 2.5 million people serving time doing so for drug related offenses; and despite repeated studies by the RAND Corporation and the National Research Council dating back as far as 1986, and this last week the Global Commission on Drug Policy, all showing the inefficacy of drug interdiction and harsh punishments in reducing drug use… Despite all this, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy still insists that “Making drugs more available … will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe.” In other words, the “War On Drugs” must continue.
The question is, why?
It would be easy to, as many do, simply write it off as politics. There’s a lot of money being poured into many government agencies to “fight” this “war”, and government agencies watch their funding sources as closely as any mother hen her eggs. That’s undeniable. But it’s also only part of the story. Some actually believe that:
[Just because] the cost of engaging in a “drug war” is, in dollars and cents, a tremendous economic burden and, as a tool of public policy, of doubtful effect. That does not mean that because a government effort directed at solving a social evil is both costly and of little effect that it should be abandoned, but it does (or should) force us to conduct a very critical cost-benefit analysis as part of our decision-making process.
Ultimately, all of these points are component parts of the national public policy. The legitimate police power of the state, if you are a traditional, Blackstonian, common-law theorist, is that the civil government may not declare evil that which is good nor declare good that which is evil. Good and evil are determined by the revealed Word of God in the Holy Bible and Christianity is the expression of that revelation. —John A. Sterling
In other words, for those like Mr. Sterling, this is a Holy Crusade and efficacy is less important than doing (what these people believe to be) God’s Will.
Others claim that there is a direct correlation between the “War On Drugs” and drug use. Over on Opposing Views David Evans of the Drug Free Schools Coalition claims that:
The facts in the US provide for much optimism: drug control has reduced casual use, chronic use and addiction, and prevented others from starting to use drugs. Drug use in the US is down by more than a third since the late 1970s. This means that 9.5 million fewer people use illegal drugs and cocaine use has been reduced by an astounding 70% resulting in 4.1 million fewer people using cocaine.
This of course flies in the face of every major reputable study done in the U.S. (see above) and Europe and is a bit like President Obama’s statistically vacuous and oft repeated claim of how many jobs he has “created or saved.” There is simply no way to know how many people have opted not to use drugs directly and specifically because of the “War On Drugs” anymore than there is a way to know how many jobs were “saved” directly and specifically because of the Obama administration’s policies. The fact is, to quote from the Global Commission on Drug Policy:
Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers. Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use.
So let’s quit kidding ourselves, shall we?
Despite all interdiction efforts, marijuana is now “by far the largest cash crop in the United States,” according to data published by the USDA. In fact, it is “ …the top 3 cash [crop] in 30 states, and one of the top 5 cash crops in 39 states.” And somewhere between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 Americans (depending on who you believe) use marijuana either recreationally or medicinally, or both. It is now legal in 16 states and a phenomenal 80% of the public now approves of legalization for medical use, according to several major polls.
Clearly, while people aren’t interested in having their streets and towns invaded by drug gangs, or crack houses for neighbors, attitudes about drug use and what should be done about it are shifting, in this country and overseas. Tolerance for governments trying to pummel their people into submission on moral grounds as was attempted with the 18th Amendment (prohibition) is fading fast, and with it patience for treating victimless “offenders” the same as murders and rapists.
The irony here is that, this is a lesson that should have been learned centuries ago. In Utopia, one of the best read books in 16th Century Europe, Saint Sir Thomas More writes:
I must say, extreme justice is an extreme injury: for we ought not to approve of those terrible laws that make the smallest offences capital, nor of that opinion of the Stoics that makes all crimes equal; as if there were no difference to be made between the killing a man and the taking his purse, between which, if we examine things impartially, there is no likeness nor proportion.
If More’s first object in the discussion is to point out that the punishment should fit the crime, his second is that any punishment is a poor substitute for causal remedies. Incarcerating substance abusers doesn’t deal with their propensity for addiction. Branding the poor inner city kid who peddles dope as a trafficker for the rest of his life so he can’t get a job, can’t get funding for an education, and can’t get a drivers license to do any of those things anyway does little to encourage him to do anything but return to the street, embittered, wizened, and hardened. Insisting that a drug that almost as many people use like alcohol, think of as being no worse (and in some ways better) than alcohol, is equal to methamphetamine makes criminals of productive, law abiding citizens. It destroys careers and families; sucks the life out of local economies; and all to no positive effect.
And that’s a good summary of the “War On Drugs”. It has sucked trillions of dollars out of our economy. It has ruined millions of lives. And all to no positive effect that can be measured save through political dissembling or religious sophistry.