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Friday, June 29, 2012

War on Drugs is Getting Old

We've had the "War on Drugs" for nearly half a century and everybody's losing.  "Fast and Furious", the latest scandal, is just another drug-related operation gone awry.

The first problem is that it's not really a war on drugs:
The war, after all, cannot really be a war on drugs, since drugs cannot be arrested, prosecuted, or punished.  The war is against persons who use drugs.  As such, the war is a civil war, fought against the 28 million Americans who use illegal drugs annually. -Douglas Husak, Rutgers University.
It would be a devastating civil war if the 28 million drug users shot bullets instead of drugs, but fortunately, the vast majority have refrained from violent resistance against their oppressors.

Yet it's still devastating in numerous ways.  The first, as pointed out by Doug Bandow at Forbes, is financial:
Perhaps the most obvious cost of enforcing the drug laws is financial.  Government must create an expansive and expensive enforcement apparatus, including financial and military aid to other governments.  At the same time, the U.S. authorities must forgo any tax revenue from a licit drug market.  According to Harvard’s Jeffrey A. Miron and doctoral candidate Katherine Waldock, in the U.S. alone “legalizing drugs would save roughly $41.3 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition” and “yield tax revenue of $46.7 billion annually.”
For the length of the War on Drugs, that works out to nearly $5 trillion in the United States alone.  That's about 1/3 the total debt that could have been eliminated. As a nation, we've got to cut spending and revenues from taxes on drugs would help as well.  We simply cannot afford this nonsense any longer.

An additional cost is the huge rate of incarceration of people for drug use (also from the Forbes article):
The Drug War has turned America into a prison state.  There were 13.7 million arrests in 2009, more than 10% of which, 1.7 million, were for drug offenses.  Nearly half of the latter were for marijuana.  In comparison, just 590,000 people were arrested for violent crimes.  Overall, 80% of drug arrests are for possession.  More than half of federal prisoners are serving time for drug offenses.  About 20% of state prisoners are incarcerated for drug crimes.
We need these people to be in the economy, producing, as opposed to being in jail, languishing.

Lastly, it's very clear to me that the "War on Drugs" is not coming anywhere close to its goals and may not be having any positive effect at all.
Various mixtures of these strategies and tactics have been implemented around the world over the last 50 years, but there is no evidence that any national government has been able to achieve anything like the objective of a controlled and diminished drug market, let alone a drug free world.
So the "War on Drugs" isn't helping, it's ruining people's lives by putting them in jail, and it's breaking the bank.  The last three presidents have all used drugs and tens of millions of Americans have tried illegal drugs.

It's time to take a radically different approach and declare peace: legalize and tax drugs.


Hey Skipper said...

At a town hall meeting with Sen Murkowski a few months back, I made roughly your point. Her presentation -- pretty well done, BTW -- was about budget issues, and how Congress needs to focus on effective spending, and ditch the rest.

So my question to her was that given the immense costs and social damage the war on marijuana has cost, isn't it about time stopped re-learning about Prohibition?

She reacted just like a deer suddenly in the high-beams.

Her response? "I would never vote for anything that endangered our country's children."

IIWG, I would start by legalizing marijuana and cocaine, make them available only via a doctor's prescription through a pharmacy, tax them to just below the point of creating a black-market, and prohibit public consumption.

Bret said...

Sounds like a good approach to me.

Can't Murkowski understand that squandering resources and creating a black market also "endangers our country's children"?