War on Drugs not having intended results

Dec 15th, 2009 | By | Category: Columns, From the Archives, Opinions

by Zach Becker

It is time to declare a ceasefire. The war on drugs is a classic case of the solution being a bigger problem than the problem itself.

Now, before you attack me, let me state that I have never tried nor ever intend to try any drugs. This is not the ranting of some pot or crackhead. I would heartily recommend all people stay away from drugs.

This issue must be examined logically, though. We had 7.3 million people in our correctional system in 2007. That is 1 in 31 adults. That is triple the number of people in the system back in 1982. During that time frame, our nation has redoubled its efforts in the war on drugs. DEA_Operation_Mallorca,_2005

We’ve gotten tough on crime, as politicians like to say, and now dole out longer, mandatory sentences for drug crimes. Federal mandatory sentencing guidelines set out by Congress in 1986 and 1988 take away the discretion of judges to decide what punishment is best suited for a particular drug offender based on the facts of a case.

Instead, federal judges are given concrete rules that determine the length of an offenders sentence based on the amount of drug sold and whether or not a firearm was involved. Some might deserve longer sentences, but many non-violent offenders could better served by being sent into drug rehab. Our prisons are overflowing, yet instead of addressing the problem, we continue to send non-violent drug offenders into their ranks.

If the goal is to lock as many people up as possible, then the war on drugs has been a total success. We account for 25 percent of the world’s prison population, yet only have five percent of the total world population. If the goal is to rehabilitate offenders and successfully re-integrate them into society, then the war on drugs is an unmitigated failure. A 1994 study shows that 67 percent of drug offenders are arrested again within three years of release from prison, up from 50 percent in 1983. We’ve got a revolving door of drug offenders coming in and out of prison.

The problem stretches beyond the United States. We serve as the goal line for a multi-billion dollar illegal drug trade that makes its way up from South and Central America and goes right to the heart of our cities, leaving behind it a wake of death and destruction at the hands of powerful drug lords.

Now, let’s imagine what would happen if we decided to legalize all drugs and treat them like we do cigarettes and alcohol (meaning regulating their manufacture, publicizing their dangerous side effects, restricting their use for certain activities like driving, and not allowing them to be sold to or used by those under 18).

Suddenly, these dangerous drugs are widely available at your local supermarket. Cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana are now sitting at your local drugstore in a locked case next to the cigarettes and beer.

The cost of these products will inevitably be cheaper than those purchased on the street. Almost overnight, the drug trade will disappear. The pot of gold waiting in the United States for Colombian drug lords will be gone, as will much of their power. The neighborhood meth lab ready to explode at any minute and take half the neighborhood with it will be gone, too.

The supply will be safety tested, eliminating contaminants common in illegally manufactured drugs. Drug users can cheaply buy clean needles to use in their habit, slowing the spread of HIV and other illnesses. The drugs will be taxed, creating a new revenue stream for local and state governments. I don’t want people using drugs, but they will anyway. At least now they could do so more safely.

The prison population would drop significantly, freeing up taxpayer resources. Non-violent drug offenders could be sent home or to rehabilitation facilities. Violent crimes would go down, as affordable drugs would eliminate the need for users to commit many of their money-related crimes.

What would we be left with in the wake of legalizing drugs? One huge drug problem, just like we have now. The difference is that our method of dealing with it would not cost billions of dollars and would not overflow our prison system.

Look at alcohol. We tried making that illegal. We ended up with many of the problems we are facing now with drugs; illegal manufacture and use and increased burden on the correctional system.

Instead, we legalized it and brought it out into the open. Many people still have an alcohol problem in this country, yet I think our current solution is better than making its use illegal.

Today we have support groups and rehab clinics ready to help alcohol abusers. With all the money we will save on prisons, we can increase our rehabilitation efforts for drug users. Make these open and free for anyone who is ready to get help.

Some might argue that by making drugs readily available, we will encourage more people to use them. However, cigarettes are widely available, but their use has been on a downturn for years through civic education about its risks. Per capita alcohol consumption has been going down since the 1980s. Legalizing drugs will eliminate the appeal of them for some people drawn to things forbidden, while education about these drugs at the point of purchase will increase public awareness about the danger involved.

We spent over $13 billion combating drugs in 2008. Throwing more money at law enforcement is not going to solve this problem. We need to stand down and try a new strategy focused not on locking people up for using drugs, but rather treating people who have this problem.

A solution that causes more problems than it solves is no solution at all. End the war on drugs.

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  1. a ceasefire will not suffice. this madness has to be end!


  2. In society today adults have to make millions of important decisions, a lot of which can have a drastic effect on their lives, even death. We are responsible for our choices, and we suffer and prosper from our choices, it’s what makes each individual who they ultimately become. This is called freedom of choice, ownership of ones self. We are legally allowed to make these choices everyday, including many that can be instantly fatal such as riding recreational dirt bikes for the thrill of it, even though it could cost us our lives, its our choice to make.

    By trying to force people into not consuming a natural plant we are effectively causing more harm than if we were to let each adult make their own choices and except the consequences for those choices. The harm prohibition has brought to not just our own country, but the vast majority of the world is on a remarkably large scale, and threatens our national security. By choosing to prohibit this substance, we have chosen to ignore it and to let it be controlled by the black market. This in turn has enriched criminal enterprises to the point they have the financial power to compete with their own governments on a military bases as seen in Mexico. Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and the majority of citizens know this, this in turn creates disrespect for law enforcement thereby furthering the deterioration of our community as a whole. It is inhumane to lock a person in a cage and take away their belongings they worked for when they did nothing to harm any other individual or society. Current marijuana laws are a civil rights nightmare waiting to happen, and only makes marijuana readily available to anyone of any age. The laws are obviously bad, expensive and unyielding in accomplishments. We spend billions each year to try and stop marijuana consumption, and yet the DEA admits they would be surprised if they are even getting 1% of the drugs being transported. That’s a bad investment, and the majorities do not agree with it.

    Prohibition is bad for our kids as they have complete access to it as long as its being controlled by the black market, what we need is control and regulation to minimize the exposure of drugs to young children. As long as it is illegal or decriminalized there will be a black market selling it at a marked up value because of risk, and all the harm will continue.

    By legalizing marijuana we are effectively controlling its distribution, and can much better regulate its use by age limits.

    Simply put, it’s a real no brainer and it will eventually happen, so if it’s not working now, and has the potential to be better why would we stay put?

    Let’s not continue to turn regular tax paying citizens into tax burdens for the rest of us,
    there comes a time when you have to realize a bad investment is a bad investment.

    Please help us do the right thing, listen to the people of California who have bravely stood up for a positive change in our society, drugs may not bee good for us, but prohibition has proven far worse.

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  6. One need not travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, radicals, and non-whites under prosecution of the war on drugs. If we’re all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance global credibility.

    The drug czar’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as lives are flushed down expensive tubes. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. Behold, it’s all good. When Eve ate the apple, she knew a good apple, and an evil prohibition. Canadian Marc Emery is being extradited to prison for selling seeds that American farmers use to reduce U. S. demand for Mexican pot.

    Only on the authority of a clause about interstate commerce does the CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) reincarnate Al Capone, endanger homeland security, and throw good money after bad. Administration fiscal policy burns tax dollars to root out the number-one cash crop in the land, instead of taxing sales. Society rejected the plague of prohibition, but it mutated. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment.

    Nixon passed the CSA on the false assurance that the Schafer Commission would later justify criminalizing his enemies. No amendments can assure due process under an anti-science law without due process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA shut down research, and pronounced that marijuana has no medical use, period. Drug juries exclude bleeding hearts.

    The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. Americans shouldn’t need a specific church membership or an act of Congress to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. John Doe’s free exercise of religious liberty may include entheogen sacraments to mediate communion with his maker.

    Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Mayflower sailed to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

    Common-law must hold that adults are the legal owners of their own bodies. The Founding Fathers undersigned that the right to the pursuit of happiness is inalienable. Socrates said to know your self. Mortal lawmakers should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should tolerate seekers’ self-exploration.

  7. The so-called war on drugs is a huge industry and huge bureaucracy.
    Victory in the drug war is not possible, nor is it the goal. Victory in
    the drug war would mean that the drug war industry and bureaucracy are
    out of business.

    There are basically two types of people who support the so-called war on

    Those who make their livelihood from it. This includes politicians and
    bureaucrats who are probably on the payroll of the drug cartels. (Al
    Capone had hundreds of politicians and prohibition officials on his

    Suckers – taxpayers who have bought into the lies and propaganda of the
    drug-war industry and bureaucracy.

    Suckers – who are willing to deny liberty and freedom to others but
    think that their own liberty and freedom will never be in jeopardy.

    Suckers – who believe that criminalizing a substance will make it go
    away. Suckers – who think that drug prohibition somehow protects children.

    Suckers – who think that giving criminals control of dangerous drugs
    somehow protects children and our society.

    Suckers – who think that they live in a free country even thought the
    United States is the most incarcerated nation in the history of human

  8. Astute article written with alot of common sense. You college students already can vote and will be our future leaders shortly down the road. I’m glad so many of you are seeing the light about the failed “Drug Wars” and the money we throw away just enforcing marijuana laws.
    There is a great site called LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. It is made up of retired cops and police chiefs who know the tragedy of continuing with our failed Drug Wars strategy.
    Medical cannabis is yet another frontier which you can vote on and petition for. Go for it, Missouri !!

    Support Medical Cannabis Access

    Support Leap.cc – Police Against Prohibition

    Support MPP.org – MJ Lobby in Wash, DC

  9. […] Drug legalization would reduce crime, increase tax revenues, allow people to seek help […]