Forty years of failure: The true cost of the war on drugs
The drug policy of the United States has a forty year legacy of failure. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the annual number of arrests for drugs in the U.S. has more than quadrupled from just around 300 million in 1970 to almost 1.8 billion drug in 2006 (see table 1). Despite this sharp increase in arrests, the illegal drug trade has flourished into an international business worth hundreds of billions of dollars (Pollard para 4). These arrests also cause a domino effect of increased costs for the United States police, courts, and prison systems. The U.S. has wasted trillions of dollars without getting any closer to ending drug use (Suddath para 1). As our nation faces the current financial recession, this lack of results over the past four decades makes it fiscally irresponsible to continue with the War on Drugs.
In 1973, President Nixon announced “an all out global war on the drug menace,” with the creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency (Suddath para 3). This is a war that has gone on to cost the U.S $2.5 trillion, over the past forty years, with still no end in sight (Suddath para 1). Former drug czar under President Clinton, Gen. Barry McCaffrey referred to the war on drugs as, “a war without a clear enemy. Anything waged against a shapeless, intangible noun can never truly be won” (Suddath para 1).
Table 1 Drug Arrests By Age
Source: Dept. of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Drugs and Crime Facts. Washington: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011. Web. 5 Apr 2012.
Those in support of the war on drugs argue that prohibition protects children from the dangers of drug use, but the government losses the ability to impose a minimum age of sale when they outlaw a substance. Making a substance illegal simply creates a place for it on the black market were sales continue without regulation. A survey by the National Center on Addiction And Substance Abuse at Columbia University reports that teens find it easier to buy marijuana than alcohol and prescription drugs (p25.) This is evidence that making a substance contraband results in fewer barriers for underage consumption while making it illegal for tax paying adults to make an informed decision about personal use.
The number of drug-related arrests has continued to rise since the DEA began operation in 1973, but not in a balance manner (see table 1.). The number of people arrested each year for possession has risen sharply compared to arrests for sales and manufacturing which has increased at a much slower rate (see table 2). In addition to disproportionately rate at which drug users are arrested compared to drug dealers, for the past twenty two years, over half of the inmates in federal prisons are non violent drug offenders (U.S. White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, p63). This imbalance shows that the current policy of prohibition provides little deterrent for the illegal drug industry. Instead of curtailing the sale of drugs, the DEA has provided the US court system with the burden of prosecuting otherwise law abiding citizens because who made the choice to use drugs. Table 2 Number of Arrests, by Type of Drug Law Violations, 1982-2007 Source: Dept. of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Drugs and Crime Facts. Washington: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011. Web. 5 Apr 2012.
In addition to losing the ability to regulate the sale of a substance, when a government bans a drug, they also forfeit revenue from taxing its sale. The United Nations estimates the sale illegal drugs generated $321 billion globally in 2003 (Pollard para 4). The UN estimates 44% of these sales, $141.25 billion, were in North America (Pollard para 9). This is a...