Abortion

Drug Czar Fail

|

John Tierney digs up the Bush administration's 2002 National Drug Control Strategy, and notes that the administration has unsurprisingly come up far short in its goal to reduce illegal drug use by 25 percent within five years.

There has been an overall decline, but it's been marginal—less than four percent.  Nevertheless, we continue to set new annual records in overall marijuana arrests, and drug czar John Walter's office is dubiously trumpeting the slight declines as vindication that the Bush-Walters overall strategy is working.

But there's a side to this discussion that's quite a more nefarious than your usual drug warrior manipulation of data. 

The ONDCP has been celebrating these marginal declines (largely driven by declines in the use of marijuana) as a "success" for a couple of years now.  From a piece I wrote in February:

In December 2006, the ONDCP put out a triumphant press release celebrating a five-year decline in the use of illicit drugs among teens.

"There has been a substance abuse sea change among American teens," Walters said in the release. "They are getting the message that dangerous drugs damage their lives and limit their futures. We know that if people don't start using drugs during their teen years, they are very unlikely to go on to develop drug problems later in life."

But here's what the ONDCP doesn't want to talk about:

But the following February, the Centers for Disease Control reported that deaths from drug overdoses rose nearly 70 percent over the previous five years.

Half the overdose deaths were attributable to cocaine, heroin, and prescription drugs (the number of overdose deaths caused by marijuana—the drug most targeted by the ONDCP—remained at zero). One of the biggest increases (113%) came among aged 15-22, those same teenagers Walters was celebrating just three months earlier.

We're told that drug war is a moral imperative because, in the words of Walters himself, "dangerous drugs damage [children's] lives and limit their futures."  But like most temperance zealots, Walters measures success not by actual lives wrecked or ended prematurely, but merely by how many people are and aren't getting high. 

Switching from the "drugs ruin lives" justification for the drug war itself to "how many people are getting high" when measuring the same drug war's effectiveness, then, hides a more important statistic:  How many people have had their lives ruined and futures limited by the drug war?  The vast majority of the 873,000 people arrested for marijuana offenses last year, for example, likely had more damage done to their lives by the prohibition of marijuana than could ever be done by the drug itself.

Such is why drug warriors like William Bennett, Karen Tandy, and Walters can assert with a straight face that alcohol prohibition was, also, a "success."  Sure, the crime rate spiked, alcohol hospitalizations soared, and corruption and contempt for the rule of law was rampant.  But fewer people swallowed down less demon rum.  So, score one for social engineering.

Sure, deaths from drug overdose have jumped 70 percent, and more than doubled among young people.  But fewer people are smoking pot.  And that means we're winning.

Advertisement

NEXT: McCain's First Priority: Repealing the Law of Supply and Demand

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Prohibition was repealed when the Great Depression put the squeeze on the government. Legalizing booze was a double win. Saving the money spent enforcing the unenforceable, and taxing one of the most profitable businesses.

    Here’s hoping the coming Newer Deal comes with newer repeal of prohibition.

  2. I swear this one kid I know totally OD’ed on marijuana last summer. He tried to smoke two joints before he smoked to joints, but then he smoked two more. And, well, that was the end of him.

  3. Man, I got really excited when I clicked on that maf54 link!

  4. As a responsible user of cannabis for over 25 years, I’m really getting a kick out of the war on some drugs czar’s claims.

    Just one question sir, if I may;

    If the war on some drugs is working so well by decreasing users so dramatically and eliminating opportunities for dope fiends to find a job, why does the market support such high prices for cannabis?

    /There must be a lot of responsible cannabis users with jobs in order to buy it.

    //Legalize it already.

  5. *sigh*
    I’m gonna go blow one.

  6. ZZman, good point.

    SWIM went to go buy pot the other day when SWIM realized she was gainfully employed and thankful that pot was cheap, safe, easy to acquire, and provided wonderfully hangover free relaxation. SWIM, who was quite intelligent, recognized that she could purchase more potent pot and smoke less of it, thus protecting SWIM’s lungs from having to inhale excess tar. SWIM will likely never be personally persecuted as a result of the War on Drugs, but SWIM likely resents it.

    Who knows?

  7. “I’m gonna go blow one.”

    Of course you are. That’s what happens when you indulge in the ‘Demon Weed’, you end up giving blow jobs to anyone you can find to support your habbit.

  8. Scandalous.

  9. Doctors smoke it, nurses smoke it,
    Judges smoke it, even the lawyer too
    you’ve got to legalize it, and don’t criticize it
    you’ve got to legalize it, yeah, and I will advertise it.

    It’s good for hte flu, and good for asthma
    good for tuberculosis, even umara composis

  10. One of the biggest increases (113%) came among aged 15-22, those same teenagers Walters was celebrating just three months earlier.

    Well, they *are* “very unlikely to go on to develop drug problems later in life.”

  11. Are you telling me there’s still a drug czar?

  12. And here’s an old diddy from my summer camp days:

    ??(to the tune of Brother John)??
    Marijuana marijuana,
    LSD LSD,
    Scientist make it, Counselors take it
    Why can’t we, Why can’t weeee

  13. The vast majority of the 873,000 people arrested for marijuana offenses last year, for example, likely had more damage done to their lives by the prohibition of marijuana than could ever be done by the drug itself.

    That one always gets me. “We must save kids from the dangers of marijuana by ruining the rest of their lives.”

    Sure, the crime rate spiked, alcohol hospitalizations soared, and corruption and contempt for the rule of law was rampant.

    Then there are the people who were hurt by bad booze, lead poisoning for example, because bootleggers don’t do much quality control. The same is true with today’s illegal drugs. Oh, and the innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire.

  14. Are you telling me there’s still a drug czar?
    The drug czar isn’t doing a good enough job. We obviously need a czar czar.

  15. Hey, TallDave, this is what most of the Republicans that you suck up to support, whether you agree with it or not.

  16. Listen:

    Quality control is an important factor in today’s underground drug industry. Dead customers are not repeat customers. Money and the knowledge of where to put it will lead to a quality product. caveat emptor, especially for their kicks.

  17. To me there’s only one stat by which to evaluate the effectiveness of the drug war: the consumption rate of California cheeseburgers.

  18. Cool. I take from this that we need more money and to try harder.

  19. Nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol… c-c-c-c-c-cocaine

  20. I wonder if Walters ever comes to the Internet and reads posts like Radley’s and I wonder what he thinks when he does. Since his job and his worldview depend so completely upon his denial of facts, reasoned argument, and logic, I guess it’s a resounding chorus of “MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW.”

  21. hey damn way to rock out the queens of the stone age

    (songs for the deaf is superior in every way)

  22. Hey, TallDave, this is what most of the Republicans that you suck up to support, whether you agree with it or not.

    Three words: Joe Frickin Biden.

    And I didn’t see Clinton dismantling the office when he was in charge. He hired a general, which is about as close as we have these days to an actual czar.

  23. Voters with an enlightened view of marijuana remain a small (but growing) minority. I believe that the economic argument combining the savings from eliminating the WOD and revenue enhancements from taxing weed may be our only hope of ever legalizing it. At least it’s worth a shot.

  24. Haha this is hilarious, like prohibition will stop anything. 25 years later the pot is 2x better.

  25. maybe should prohibit whatever the drug czar is taking. Clearly it makes powerful people powerfully stupid.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.