Monday, May 17, 2010

Even the Drug Czar Knows that the War on Drugs Is a Failure

All quotes are from this article.

Here I abridge things a bit, make a few of my own points and ask a few questions:

According to U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, "In the grand scheme, it [the drug war] has not been successful. Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

Taking exception, former drug czar John P. Walters said:
To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous. It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided.
So what really bothers Walters is simply admitting failure. That's about it. Let's continue spending billions each year, and let's sacrifice thousands of more lives each year. Just don't you dare ask us to admit that we failed to accomplish our objectives!

When President Nixon first declared a "War on Drugs" he spent $100 million. Under Obama's administration, the federal government will spend in excess of $15.1 billion. Adjusted for inflation, that amounts to 31 times more spending. So let's ask a couple of important questions: Is drug use down 31 times? Is there 31 times less violence? Are we 31 times better off in any way?

Of course we aren't. So what are we getting for our money?

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 [Insert sarcasm-laden gasp]. In 40 years, taxpayers spent more than:

- $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico - and the violence along with it.

- $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.

- $49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.

- $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.

- $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.

At the same time, drug abuse is costing the nation in other ways. The Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse - "an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction" - cost the United States $215 billion a year.

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 rest of the article discusses how Obama pays lip service to treating drug use as a public health issue rather than a criminal one, but it points out that he's spending twice as much on the criminal justice side.

Oh, and it ends with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano suggesting the equivalent to drug use is just so bad that we just have to do something!

Even if something doesn't work and costs an awful lot in money and lives lost?

I guess so.

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