APCP Research Paper
Drug Policy: A Look at America’s Ineffective Approach to Drugs
In January 2004, senatorial candidate Barack Obama firmly opposed the twenty two-year war on drugs, saying that the United States’ approach in the drug war has been ineffective (Debussman). Although the term, “war on drugs,” was originally coined by President Richard Nixon in 1971, it wasn’t until Ronald Reagan announced that “drugs were menacing society” that it became a major policy goal to stop widespread use. Following Reagan’s promises to fight for drug-free schools and workplaces, the United States boosted its efforts in its most recent declaration of war. Thirty years later, at the Summit of the Americas, President Obama staunchly opposed the legalization of drugs in a classic political flip-flop, claiming that unregulated use of drugs would be more corrupt than the status quo (“Blunt Talk”). The president’s view is naïve and inaccurate. The legalization of drugs is the most effective way to decrease corruption and violence in Latin America. Legalization would result in less crime across the region, less money for drug cartels, and significantly reduced corruption in Latin American governments. Background
Since Reagan’s declaration, the war on drugs has been a dismal failure. The New York Times book review quantifies the extent of the war’s failed approach, saying that it is hard to think of a single lasting accomplishment. (Guillermoprieto). Eradication efforts have worked against what the war intended to do, and have actually increased drug production in Latin American countries. Although Columbia spends six percent of its annual GNP on drug eradication (Guillermoprieto), the amount of land devoted to growing coca in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru has risen to more than 700 square miles. These are the highest levels of cultivation since 2001. (“Coca”). The War on Drugs is not decreasing, but rather increasing, drug production in Latin America. Drug eradication efforts have caused more violence than the drugs themselves. Analysis by Jennifer Holmes and others at the University of Texas suggests that cocaine was not related to crime in Colombia between 1999 and 2001, but that eradication was. Economists Oeindrila Dube and Suresh Naidu concluded that U.S. military aid to Colombia was associated with increased paramilitary violence. A 10 percent increase in U.S. military aid was associated with a 15 percent rise in paramilitary attacks (Kenny). The ineffectiveness of the drug war is due to a flaw in its basic premise. Guatemalan president Perez Molina identified this tragic flaw, pointing out that, “The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated” (Doward). However, according to the Christian Science Monitor, drug trade is a global commodity that makes over $39 billion per year in Mexico alone. In fact, Mexican drug revenues are roughly equal to the global annual revenue of Google and Halliburton combined (Bronsther). Ted Zalen Carpenter puts the magnitude of the international drug trade into perspective: “the drug war has created an international industry in which the average drug-trafficking organization can afford to lose 90 percent of its product and still remain profitable” (Carpenter). Simply put, as long as the demand for narcotics exists, drug cartels will continue to operate. However, an end to the drug war curbs demand and handicaps cartels. Body
Legalizing drugs effectively halts the multi-billion dollar drug trade and severely limits the firepower that cartels have and the damage that they can do. Decriminalizing or legalizing the drugs that are grown in Latin America means that their value is automatically determined by market forces. These market forces would drive down the price of...