End The Drug War – 9 Key Reasons Why a Supermajority of Americans Wants to End the War on Drugs
Learning from the Legalization of Cannabis, Americans are Increasingly Prepared to Support an Alternative Approach to the Federal Government’s Failed War on Drugs.
A solid 67% of Americans think we need a better alternative to end the drug war, according to a 2014 poll by the Drug Policy Alliance. A 2018 Rasmussen poll found that just 9% of Americans believe the drug war is actually working.
While public policy experts, social scientists, and public health authorities continue to debate the best possible alternatives to the drug war, one thing remains certain: Americans across the political spectrum are ready for a more effective, affordable, and humane approach. Part of this comes from the realization that other nations have found a better way. The surprisingly positive consequences of cannabis legalization, in a number of diverse states, is also forcing people to wake up and question the flawed assumptions that surround the global drug war. But most Americans are simply fed up with the federal government’s catastrophic failure to curb drug use and abuse. The following are the nine reasons most often cited to justify and end the drug war.
#1. The Drug War Increases Crime
Because they are completely unregulated, drug dealers are able to mark up the price of illegal drugs thousands of times more than they cost to produce. Wildly expensive drugs, in turn, push addicts to do all manner of illegal things in order to fund their habits, including, in some cases, committing violent crimes. Furthermore, because law enforcement and the courts are not an option, violence becomes the default mechanism to regulate the black market which is fueled by the drug war.
Moreover, research shows that increasing the resources available for the war on drugs often makes violent crime worse. As research by the International Center for Science in Drug Policy has argued, “Contrary to the conventional wisdom that increasing drug law enforcement will reduce violence, the existing scientific evidence strongly suggests that drug prohibition likely contributes to drug market violence and higher homicide rates.” The excessive profits of organized crime also lead to increases in the level of political corruption, and the weakening of democratic governance (this is especially problematic in developing countries).
#2. The Drug War Perpetuates Racism
The drug war in the U.S. has a disproportionately negative effect on minorities, particularly blacks. Illegal drug use among blacks is approximately 10.5%, which is virtually identical to other races, including whites, 9.5% of which use illegal drugs. Blacks, however, are nearly three times more likely to be arrested for illegal drug use. Once arrested, blacks are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. Criminal records, in turn, lead these folks to face a number of disadvantages when they return to society and attempt to reenter the workforce, vote, buy a house, or apply for a loan—all of which further increases the likelihood of even greater discrimination.
#3. The Drug War Spawns Increasingly Effective and Efficient Criminal Cartels
One thing we’ve learned from the last half century of fighting the war on drugs is that so long as the demand for drugs exists, cartels will exist to meet that demand. As soon as you eliminate one cartel another one immediately muscles in to replace it. “This has happened time and time again throughout the war on drugs; it’s why the drug trade simply moved from Colombia to Mexico after a US-sponsored anti-drug campaign in Colombia, and why the end of one drug trafficking organization in Mexico just seems to spawn another.” The only way to eliminate criminal drug cartels is to legalize drugs and increase treatment programs. Rather than eliminating or reducing cartels, however, the drug war makes the cartels smarter, more ruthless and efficient. It’s as natural as evolution, according to drug policy expert Sanho Tree, a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. “It’s as though we have had a decades-long unintended policy of artificial selection,” he writes. Rather than reducing the supply of drugs, the only thing law enforcement has actually accomplished is a partial thinning out of the ranks such that only the most powerful and proficient cartels survive and prosper. “Indeed,” Sanho argues, “U.S. drug war policies have selectively bred “super-traffickers.”
#4. The Drug War Feeds the Prison Industrial Complex
Despite a steadily decreasing crime rate, the incarceration rate in the U.S. continues to grow exponentially. The primary driver behind increased incarceration is the prison-industrial complex—a term used to describe the corrupt connections between politicians and the numerous companies, including private prisons, that profit from the imprisonment of Americans. These companies spend inordinate amounts of money lobbying politicians to create laws that make it easier to put people in prison, and with longer prison sentences. Since the beginning of Nixon’s War on Drugs, the U.S. incarceration rate has increased upwards of 500% (see graph). Today, the United States leads the entire world with both the largest prison population, and the highest incarceration rate. As of 2018, the U.S. has nearly as many people in prison (2.3 million) as China (1.6M), Russia (0.5M), and Iran (0.2M) combined.
#5. The Drug War Corrupts the Criminal Justice System
People are increasingly going to prison not to keep our communities safe, but to line the pockets of prison profiteers. As journalist Eric Schlosser writes in The Atlantic Monthly, “The lure of big money is corrupting the nation’s criminal-justice system, replacing notions of safety and public service with a drive for higher profits. The eagerness of elected officials to pass tough-on-crime legislation—combined with their unwillingness to disclose the external and social costs of these laws—has encouraged all sorts of financial improprieties.”
To say that the criminal justice system is corrupt may seem like a harsh judgment, but it’s hard to argue with facts like this (particularly when you understand the profit motives operating throughout the system): “Since 1991 the rate of violent crime in the United States has fallen by about 20 percent, while the number of people in prison or jail has risen by 50 percent.” As Senator Bernie Sanders said while introducing legislation in 2015, “There is no doubt that our criminal justice system is broken and in need of major reforms. […] The basic decisions regarding criminal justice and public safety must be the responsibility of the citizens of our country and not the investors in private corporations.”
#6. The Drug War Criminalizes Disease, Increasing Drug-Related Deaths
Drug addiction is a disease, not a crime. This new paradigm, operating in a handful of advanced nations, focuses primarily on “harm reduction,” and the results are encouraging. By removing criminal penalties for drug use and personal possession (it is still illegal to sell or distribute drugs), countries such as Portugal and the Netherlands have significantly reduced drug use and drug-related deaths—far more than they were able to accomplish through the war on drugs. As The New York Times reports, “The public health approach arises from an increasingly common view worldwide that addiction is a chronic disease, perhaps comparable to diabetes, and thus requires medical care rather than punishment. After all, we don’t just tell diabetics, Get over it.” Moreover, when the focus turns to helping the user overcome addiction, as opposed to trying to maximize their prison sentence, the demand for illegal drugs starts to dry up. In contrast, when addicts get caught up in the criminal justice system, their lives take a turn for the worse making it even less likely that they will overcome addiction.
#7. The Drug War Destroys Our Environment
One of the government’s most destructive weapons in the war on drugs is the Monsanto-owned herbicide Roundup. In an effort to destroy the supply of illegal drugs, governments have taken to aerial fumigation (spraying poisons on crops from planes). This can indeed kill entire drug crops—opium poppy (heroin, opioids, etc.), coca (cocaine), marijuana, etc.—but it also leaves massive trails of death and environmental destruction in its path. “It’s not just plant life that is affected, either. Millions of people,” Business Insider reports, “and countless animal species rely on freshwater from areas where Roundup is sprayed, presenting major health risks for all.” Former World Wildlife Fund (WWF) director Dr. David Olson has compared the spraying of Roundup to the Agent Orange devastation that the U.S. committed during the war in Vietnam, “a disturbance the wildlife and natural ecosystems have never recovered from.”
Moreover, with drug crops under the control of criminal cartels, the use of illegal pesticides is running rampant, including highly toxic pesticides such as carbofuran—a neurotoxic pesticide that is so dangerous its been banned across the developed world (In South Africa, carbofuran is known as “the lion killer,” but it is highly toxic to humans as well; exposure frequently leads to nausea and blurred vision, but can also cause “convulsions, spontaneous abortions, and death.”). As a result, the cartels are themselves doing considerable damage to the environment, including contaminating the water supply with poisonous toxins in places such as Northern California. Along with devastating chemical contamination, the failed focus on the supply side of the drug war (as opposed to focusing on demand, through treatment programs), is also leading to the deforestation of some of the world’s most precious and sensitive ecosystems, including our national parks.
#8. The Drug War is Outrageously Expensive
America’s War on Drugs is costing taxpayers $58 billion dollars every year. The total cost to U.S. taxpayers since its inception under President Richard Nixon in 1971 now exceeds $1.5 trillion dollars. (For perspective, you could spend $2 million dollars every single day since the time of Jesus Christ or Julius Caesar—more than 2,000 years ago—and you still wouldn’t have blown through $1.5 trillion.) This says nothing of the $330 billion a year that ends up in the pockets of organized crime, money which is “available for fueling corruption,” but which is not being taxed. According to a 2010 Cato Institute study, if illegal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to alcohol, cigarettes and various other sin taxes, tax revenues would top $46.7 billion per year. Added to the annual savings cited above ($58B), this would cover the annual costs of all of the following U.S. departments combined: U.S. Department of Energy ($27.9B), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ($32.6B), U.S. Department of the Interior ($20.7), U.S. Department of Labor ($12.1B), and the U.S. Department of the Treasury ($14B).
#9. End the Drug War – The Drug War is a Proven Failure
In 1925, the celebrated American journalist and cultural critic H. L. Mencken summarized his analysis of alcohol prohibition:
“Prohibition has not only failed in its promises but actually created additional serious and disturbing social problems throughout society. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. … The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”
This, unfortunately, is no less true for the war on drugs today, than it was for alcohol prohibition in the early 20th century. Drugs are still be manufactured, distributed, and consumed in record numbers. Tragically, people are also now overdosing in record numbers. “Since the global war on drugs began,” Business Insider reports, “drug use has expanded steadily, the exact opposite outcome the war is meant to effect.” The bottom line is the war on drugs does not work. It has failed spectacularly, and it will continue to fail spectacularly. There is not one single example of a developed, democratic society in the world where the war on drugs actually works (though there are some reports that the drug war is not actually supposed to work—see, for example, the History channel’s documentary series, America’s War on Drugs).
It’s unlikely that America will end the war on drugs anytime soon. None of the potential alternatives are perfect, nor do we know exactly how each approach would work out (though we are, thanks to the leadership of Portugal and others, beginning to understand how effective it is to treat drug use as a public health issue rather than a crime).
Nevertheless, when you realize that: (a.) the drug war is doing virtually nothing to stop the use of illegal drugs, and (b.) that ending the war on drugs, and increasing treatment and “harm reduction” programs will dramatically decrease the number of drug users and addicts, as well as drug overdoses and violent crime, then you’re forced to come to terms with the fact that, however paradoxical it may seem, the war on drugs is actually the primary driver of continued drug use and abuse.
The good news is that there is a way to test an alternative approach: Legalize cannabis and watch what happens. Perhaps the next step is for one of the states to take the lead on adopting an alternative approach to the federal government’s failed war on drugs – and once and for all end the drug war.
By Johnnie Welch
Cannabis Sativa, Inc Staff Writer
End The Drug War
for more visit CannabisSativaInc.com