Argument: War on Drugs is overly punitive and draconian

Issue Report: War on Drugs


Jennifer Abel. “How the ‘war on drugs’ can kill.” Guardian. February 27, 2010: “During prohibition, the US government poisoned alcohol. Such punitive zeal is seen in today’s ‘war on drugs’.

[…] Since bootleggers often stole industrial-grade alcohol to resell in drinkable form, the feds figured they’d dissuade potential customers by ordering industrial alcohol manufacturers to spike their wares with poison. Over Christmas 1926 the toxic hooch killed 31 partygoers in New York City alone; estimates for the poison programme’s total death toll go as high as 10,000.

Killing people to enforce a law ostensibly for their own good: it’s like the punitive zeal that applies to America’s “war on drugs”. Harm-reduction measures are always shot down by the drug warriors, who fear such initiatives as needle-exchange programmes, pharmaceutical heroin, and testing in nightclubs to ensure drugs aren’t contaminated “send the wrong message” – but they must know that without them, bad consequences of drug use are more likely. Where drug warriors are concerned, reducing the rate of contagion of diseases such as Aids or hepatitis isn’t nearly as important as sending the message: “Drugs are bad, OK?”

Even if you favour the argument that “drug users are lawbreakers by definition, and who cares what happens to criminals?” it still raises the question: why do crimes of intoxication inspire such governmental extremes? The feds don’t booby-trap houses to kill burglars. Murder and rape are serious crimes, but convictions won’t disqualify you for college financial aid, whereas a drug conviction just might. Non-violent drug offences can carry criminal penalties higher than those for theft, assault and even murder: the “Preppie Killer” Robert Chambers got 15 years in prison for strangling a young woman to death in 1986. He faced a much stiffer sentence for selling cocaine: he plea-bargained for 19 years rather than risk being sentenced to life.”