Issue Report: War on Drugs

Is the American War on Drugs succeeding or should it be abandoned?

Background and context

The War on Drugs is a highly controversial campaign of drug prohibition and foreign military aid being undertaken by the United States government, with the assistance of participating countries, intended to both define and reduce the illegal drug trade, and to combat leftist political movements and insurgencies in foreign nations. This initiative includes a set of strict laws and policies – such as prison-time for drug offenders and crop-eradication efforts – that are intended to discourage the production, distribution, and consumption of targeted substances. The term was first used by President Richard Nixon in 1969. On May 13, 2009, Gil Kerlikowske, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, signaled that although it didn’t plan to significantly alter drug enforcement policy, the Obama administration would not use the term “War on Drugs,” as he claims it is counter-productive. The contemporary debate surrounding the continuation of Drug War policies and the use of the term “War on Drugs” is presented and quoted below.
See Wikipedia’s article on the topic here for more background.

Effectiveness: Has the war on drugs been effective?

Has the war on drugs been effective?

Ben Perin. "We are winning war on drugs, say police." Swindon Advertiser. March 11th, 2010

“The war on drugs is being won by Swindon Police after a number of successful raids. […] It comes after one of the biggest cannabis factories was discovered in the town centre by officers at the former West Bromwich Bank on the junction of Morley Street and Commercial Road on Tuesday. […] Two men were arrested – a 20 and 40-year-old from Vietnam – at the scene in connection with cultivating the 2,000 plant crop at various stages of growth. […] Now the head of the dedicated drugs squad Sergeant Scott Hargreave, based at Gablecross Police Station, said his team was winning the war on drugs in Swindon. ‘In the 10 months we have been up and running as a drugs team we have arrested in excess of 60 people,’ he said. ‘Out of these 46 have been charged with intent to supply. We have executed 46 warrants and 80 percent have been positive searches, whereby drugs have been found.”

War on Drugs is a good idea even if not "winnable"

John Hawkins. "In defense of the drug war." Human Events. January 25th, 2007

“While it’s true that we may not ever win the war against drugs — i.e. never entirely eradicate the use of illegal drugs — we’re not ever going to win the war against murder, robbery and rape either. But our moral code rejects each of them, so none — including drugs — can be legalized if we still adhere to that code.”

War on Drugs works well in concert with other programs

Some advocates of drug prohibition claim that it works if it is part of broad-action program that includes many different types of action from information in schools to drug free treatment groups for prisoners.

The War on Drugs is not working

"A no-win 'war on drugs'." Los Angeles Times. February 28, 2009

“It has been nearly 40 years since President Nixon began the “war on drugs” in 1971. Its objective from the outset was to suppress the manufacture, distribution and consumption of illicit drugs. By all of those measures — and by common agreement — the multibillion-dollar effort has been a failure. Supply is plentiful, distribution sophisticated and consumption steady. Today, there is rare consensus among policymakers, law enforcement leaders and healthcare professionals: Our drug policy, they concede, is not working.”

War on Drugs cannot be won; drugs will always exist

Drugs will always exist in society, with people trying them for recreational and other purposes, and with the government having little ability to control these private affairs. The War on Drugs – or efforts to eradicate the trading and consumption of drugs – is, therefore, ultimately unwinnable.

War on Drugs perpetuates a failing policy

Usage: Does War on Drugs reduce usage?

War on Drugs increases price of drugs

This is seen as a sign of success because it suggests that the supply of drugs has diminished as a result of such things as coca field eradication in Columbia. In general, the diminished supply of a good makes the good more scarce and more valuable or expensive on the market. Since the price of cocaine has increased, therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that a decrease in supply is the result. This scarcity, along with higher prices and the mere illegality of drugs, helps discourage many users from trying drugs in the first place.

War on Drugs helps hold down usage

Per Ann Coulter in her book, "How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)"

“Prohibition resulted in startling reductions in alcohol consumption (over 50 percent), cirrhosis of the liver (63 percent), admissions to mental health clinics for alcohol psychosis (60 percent), and arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct (50 percent).” — p.311

War on Drugs sends clear message that drugs are bad

Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of UNODC (June 2006)

“Policy reversals leave young people confused as to just how dangerous cannabis is. With cannabis-related health damage increasing, it is fundamentally wrong for countries to make cannabis control dependent on which party is in government. The cannabis pandemic, like other challenges to public health, requires consensus, a consistent commitment across the political spectrum and by society at large.”

Drug prohibition does not correlate with decreased use

"How to stop the drug wars." The Economist. Mar 5th 2009

“fear [of legalisation] is based in large part on the presumption that more people would take drugs under a legal regime. That presumption may be wrong. There is no correlation between the harshness of drug laws and the incidence of drug-taking: citizens living under tough regimes (notably America but also Britain) take more drugs, not fewer. Embarrassed drug warriors blame this on alleged cultural differences, but even in fairly similar countries tough rules make little difference to the number of addicts: harsh Sweden and more liberal Norway have precisely the same addiction rates.”

Economics: Is the War on Drugs economically sound?

Legalizing drugs to tax them is a perverse idea

John Hawkins. "In defense of the drug war." Human Events. January 25th, 2007

“If we legalized drugs, we’d be able to tax them and bring in more revenue for the state. But, how is that working out with alcohol and cigarettes? In 2004 and 2005, 39% of all traffic-related deaths was related to alcohol consumption and 36% of convicted offenders ‘had been drinking alcohol when they committed their conviction offense.” When it comes to cigarettes, adult smokers ‘die 14 years earlier than nonsmokers.” But, will we ever get rid of tobacco or alcohol? No, both products are too societally accepted for that and perhaps more importantly, the government makes enormous amounts of revenue from their sale. Do we really want to be sitting around 10 or 15 years from now saying, ‘Gee, we’d like to get rid of heroin, but how could we replace the revenue we make from taxing it at an exorbitant rate?'”

War on Drugs is too ineffective to justify costs

Andres Oppenheimer. "Commentary: What has the 'War on Drugs' truly accomplished?" Miami Herald. March 11, 2010

“after spending more than $14 billion from U.S. taxpayers over the past four decades in Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico and other countries in the region, Latin America continues to be the largest exporter of cocaine and marijuana to the United States. […] As it is now, the U.S. war on drugs in Latin America is not working. All we are doing is chasing the drug cartels from one country to another without making much of a dent on drug trafficking.”

War on Drugs is simply too expensive

The United States efforts at drug prohibition started out with a US$ 350 million budget in 1971, and is currently (in 2006) a US$ 30 billion campaign.[2]These numbers only include direct prohibition enforcement expenditures, and as such only represent part of the total cost of prohibition. This $ 30 billion figure rises dramatically once other issues, such as the economic impact of holding 400,000 prisoners on prohibition violations, are factored in.

Costs of Drug War are greater than costs of legalization

The United States efforts at drug prohibition started out with a US$ 350 million budget in 1971, and is currently (in 2006) a US$ 30 billion campaign.These numbers only include direct prohibition enforcement expenditures, and as such only represent part of the total cost of prohibition. This $ 30 billion figure rises dramatically once other issues, such as the economic impact of holding 400,000 prisoners on prohibition violations, are factored in.

Costs of Drug War are greater than costs of legalization

William F Buckley Statement to New York Bar Association. July 1st, 1996

“the data here cited instruct us that the cost of the drug war is many times more painful, in all its manifestations, than would be the licensing of drugs combined with intensive education of non-users and intensive education designed to warn those who experiment with drugs.”

Legalizing drugs is the least bad option

"How to stop the drug wars." The Economist. Mar 5th 2009

“the war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless. That is why The Economist continues to believe that the least bad policy is to legalise drugs. ‘Least bad’ does not mean good. Legalisation, though clearly better for producer countries, would bring (different) risks to consumer countries. As we outline below, many vulnerable drug-takers would suffer. But in our view, more would gain.”

War on Drugs has destroyed valuable hemp industry

The War on Drugs has resulted in the outlawing the entire hemp industry in the United States. Hemp, a variety of Cannabis sativa, the plant that marijuana comes from, does not have significant amounts of psychoactive (THC) substances in it, less than 1%. Without even realizing the plant had been outlawed several months prior, Popular Mechanics magazine published an article in 1938 entitled The New Billion-Dollar Crop anticipating the explosion of the hemp industry with the invention of machines to help process it.

Crime/violence: Does the war on drugs help reduce crime/violence?

Drug War enables governments to crack-down on cartels

Bret Stephens. "In Praise of Mexico's War on Drugs." Wall Street Journal. March 3, 2009

“The problem is Mexico’s record of corrupt, weak and incompetent governance, which has created the environment in which the cartels have hitherto operated with impunity. The same might be said about other countries in Latin America: These states did not become basket cases on account of the drug trade. It is the fact that they were basket cases to begin with that allowed the drug trade to flourish. […] The government has managed to spark power struggles within and among cartels, and the vast majority of Mexico’s murder victims are themselves involved in the drug trade. More important, Mr. Calderón has sent the signal that his government will not repeat the patterns of complacency and collusion that typified Mexico for decades. Whatever else might be said about his government, it’s a serious one.”

Drugs fund terrorists; War on Drugs is justified

There is an argument that much crime and terrorism is drug related or drug funded and that prohibition can reduce this. This argument was made by Former US president George W. Bush, in signing the Drug-Free Communities Act Reauthorization Bill in December 2001, said, “If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terror in America.”

War on Drugs helps combat drug-related crimes

The US Drug Enforcement Administration claims: “Crime, violence and drug use go hand in hand. Six times as many homicides are committed by people under the influence of drugs, as by those who are looking for money to buy drugs. Most drug crimes aren’t committed by people trying to pay for drugs; they’re committed by people on drugs.— US Drug Enforcement Administration (2003). “Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization” DUF research indicates that: Frequent use of hard drugs is one of the strongest indicators of a criminal career. Offenders who use drugs are among the most serious and active criminals, engaging in both property and violent crime. Early and persistent use of cocaine or heroin in the juvenile years is an indicator of serious, persistent criminal behavior in adulthood. Those arrested who are drug users are more likely than those not using drugs to be rearrested on pretrial release or fail to appear at trial.

Higher price of illegal drugs causes more crimes by users

William F Buckley Statement to New York Bar Association. July 1st, 1996

“This is perhaps the moment to note that the pharmaceutical cost of cocaine and heroin is approximately 2 per cent of the street price of those drugs. Since a cocaine addict can spend as much as $1,000 per week to sustain his habit, he would need to come up with that $1,000. The approximate fencing cost of stolen goods is 80 per cent, so that to come up with $1,000 can require stealing $5,000 worth of jewels, cars, whatever. We can see that at free-market rates, $20 per week would provide the addict with the cocaine which, in this wartime drug situation, requires of him $1,000.”

War on Drugs keeps drug trade profitable

Experts like Andreas von Bülow and Milton Friedman concede that almost every serious crime of terrorism is funded by illegal drugs but they don’t agree that prohibition can reduce these phenomena. In fact the prohibition protects the drug cartel insofar as it keeps the distribution in the black market and creates the risk that makes smuggling profitable. As former federal narcotics officer Michael Levine states in relation to his undercover work with Colombian cocaine cartels.

War on Drugs worsens cartel violence

Terry Michael. "The War on Drugs is No Laughing Matter." Reason. March 27, 2009

“Marijuana does not create murderous drug cartels in Mexico. America’s War on Drugs does.”

War on Drugs destroys local suppliers, gives cartels monopoly

Mass arrests of local growers of marijuana not only increases the price of local drugs, but lessens competition. Only major retailers that can handle massive shipments, have their own small fleet of aircraft, troops to defend the caravans and other sophisticated methods of eluding the police (such as lawyers), can survive by this regulation of the free market by the government.

More people die from Drug War than overdosing

William F Buckley Statement to New York Bar Association. July 1st, 1996

“more people die every year as a result of the war against drugs than die from what we call, generically, overdosing. These fatalities include, perhaps most prominently, drug merchants who compete for commercial territory, but include also people who are robbed and killed by those desperate for money to buy the drug to which they have become addicted.”

War on Drugs wrongly stigmatizes drug-users

The UK drug policy reform group Release believes that the stigma attached to drug use needs to be removed. Release’s actions have included challenging such stigmatisation with its “Nice People Take Drugs” advertising campaign.

Imprisonment: Is imprisonment rate in War on Drugs justifiable?

War on Drugs imprisons too many people

Between 1983 and 1998, annual drug admissions to state and federal prisons increased approximately 16-fold to about 170,000. Mike Gravel. 2006 – “The United States incarcerates more people and at a higher rate than any other peacetime nation in the world. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics the number of US residents behind bars has now reached more than 2.3 million. We are losing an entire generation of young men and women to our prisons. Our nation’s ineffective and wasteful ‘war on drugs’ plays a major role in this. We must place a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and prevention. We must de-criminalize minor drug offenses and increase the availability and visibility of substance abuse treatment and prevention in our communities as well as in jails and prisons.”

Enforcing drug laws would mean mass imprisonment

Terry Michael. "The War on Drugs is No Laughing Matter." Reason. March 27, 2009

“Our government’s own research (a 2006 survey by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) reveals that over half of the adult population of America has, at one time, used a controlled substance. Which means—if our drug laws were equally applied—that over 125 million of us would have spent time in jail, as Barack Obama and George W. Bush themselves would have done for what we euphemistically and absurdly call ‘youthful indiscretions.’ Obama has admitted using marijuana and cocaine. Bush, who was less candid, simply refused to deny it.”

Drug War has targeted and incarcerated far more blacks

Civil liberties: Are liberties protected in War on Drugs?

State justified in protecting individuals from own drug abuse.

The state has the authority vested in it by the people to protect individuals from doing harm to themselves and others. The need to assume this responsibility is especially heightened if the individual is not aware of the risks, or is addicted and thus not making informed choices.

The state is justified in protecting society from drug-users

Drug-use affects the user, their families, children, communities and society at large, and the state must legislate to protect these wider interests.

Individuals are at liberty to take drugs, harm themselves

State should not regulate belief in creative value of drugs

Terence McKenna. "Non-Ordinary States Through Vision Plants, Sound Photosynthesis." 1988

“We’re playing with half a deck as long as we tolerate that the cardinals of government and science should dictate where human curiosity can legitimately send its attention and where it can not. It’s an essentially preposterous situation. It is essentially a civil rights issue, because what we’re talking about here is the repression of a religious sensibility. In fact, not a religious sensibility, the religious sensibility.”

War on Drugs invades privacy of Americans

Walter Cronkite. "Telling the Truth About the War on Drugs". Huffington Post. March 1, 2006

“With police wielding unprecedented powers to invade privacy, tap phones and conduct searches seemingly at random, our civil liberties are in a very precarious condition.”

War on Drugs is overly punitive and draconian

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'”

Youth: How does the War on Drugs relate to youth?

Unpunished drug users are unlikely to fight their substance dependency

If they are not punished, then they’ll keep using drugs (even though they probably know drugs may ruin their health).

Youth are not excused for committing crime of drug use.

Just because youth are under 21, this doesn’t mean they should have priveleges of getting away with crimes. Drugs are illegal and they should be punished equally for using them.

Addicted youth should be helped, not punished.

Scarlett Swerdlow, Executive Director ofStudents for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) said in 2005 – “Half of all high school seniors graduating this year have tried illegal drugs at some point. More than eight in ten say it’s easy for them to get their hands on marijuana. Drug policies should take this reality into account and respond sensibly. But instead, the Drug Czar wants to alienate students who have problems with drugs by arresting them, kicking them out of extracurricular activities, and taking away their financial aid for college.”

War on drugs keeps drug trade profitable, lures children in

Vs treatment: Should "war" be reduced in favor of treatment?

Treatment cuts drug-use far better than incarceration

William F Buckley Statement to New York Bar Association. July 1st, 1996

“Pursuing utilitarian analysis, we ask: What are the relative costs, on the one hand, of medical and psychological treatment for addicts and, on the other, incarceration for drug offenses? It transpires that treatment is seven times more cost-effective. By this is meant that one dollar spent on the treatment of an addict reduces the probability of continued addiction seven times more than one dollar spent on incarceration. Looked at another way: Treatment is not now available for almost half of those who would benefit from it. Yet we are willing to build more and more jails in which to isolate drug users even though at one-seventh the cost of building and maintaining jail space and pursuing, detaining, and prosecuting the drug user, we could subsidize commensurately effective medical care and psychological treatment.”

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