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AP Reports What We Already Know — War on Drugs Has Failed

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It’s a pretty rare thing when I read an AP article and totally agree with it. Usually, it seems like those articles provide little details, and especially in the area of marijuana, the authors seem almost clueless. But I just read an article that was very well written and was stuffed full of great facts and stats. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the ‘War on Drugs’ in America, and by all measurements, it is a failure. Even the AP recognizes this now, as it stated in the article, “After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.”

“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” said Gil Kerlikowske, the U.S. drug czar. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.” One would think that if the nation’s drug czar is willing to concede that the previous strategies have failed, then the current administration would try some bold new moves. However, the current administration is not only taking the same failed route, it is planning on proceeding with higher narcotics law enforcement funding than ever before. Almost 2/3 of the over $15 billion drug-control budget will be for enforcement rather than treatment and prevention.

When the ‘war on drugs’ started, President Nixon budgeted $100 million dollars for drug enforcement. As I stated previously, that number has ballooned to over $15 billion a year and over a trillion dollars total. The AP investigated where that money went, and this is what they found:

– $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.

Yet despite the overwhelming evidence that the ‘war on drugs’ is a failure, former drug czar John P. Walters is still clinging to the propaganda that he helped spread. “To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven’t made any difference is ridiculous,” Walters said. “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.” Actually, what it says Mr. Walters, is that law enforcement is not working, and that allocating more funds toward treatment and prevention would probably be a better strategy…But then again, that would require you admitting that you were wrong, and that your career as a anti-drug crusader was fruitless. I won’t hold my breath for such a confession!

I am all about smashing out meth dealers, coke dealers, heroin dealers, etc. But I think that prevention and treatment is the way to go, not simply spending more on cops that aren’t doing a good job. And I’m not alone, “Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use,” said Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, “but it’s costing the public a fortune.” Imagine if the 10 million marijuana prosecutions in the last 40 years had never happened. How many BILLIONS of dollars would have been better spent toward prevention and treatment of REAL drugs?

What would the situation look like if Nixon had used logical reasoning when crafting his anti-drug propaganda machine? No one knows for sure, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there would be less people in jail, the justice system would have more money to go after REAL drug dealers, and there would be less people addicted on the streets due to marijuana prevention funds going where they really need to go; treating addicts and preventing people from using REAL drugs. 100 years from now, future societies will look at the American ‘war on drugs’ as one of the worst (and most ineffective) public policies in ever. Too bad our politicians can’t realize that right now!

I will end this post with a quote from the AP article, “President Obama’s newly released drug war budget is essentially the same as Bush’s, with roughly twice as much money going to the criminal justice system as to treatment and prevention,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the non-profit Drug Policy Alliance. “This despite Obama’s statements on the campaign trail that drug use should be treated as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.”

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