Drug Policy

Happy 40th, War on Drugs! Now Drop Dead Already!


This Friday marks the 40th anniversary of the modern "war on drugs," as declared by Richard Nixon and perpetuated by every president ever since.

So what's wrong with the war on drugs? How about everything? Here's Inimai Chettiar of the ACLU laying out the case:

What's the verdict 40 years later? Have we won the war on drugs? Quite simply, no. From a public safety perspective, the war has been completely ineffective at stemming the supply or use of drugs in this country. From a cost perspective, it's been horrific – with a whopping $1 trillion price tag thus far and an unimaginably higher toll in lives and families lost to prison. In terms of fairness, it has been a total bust as well. The effect on communities of color has been astonishingly tragic: there are more African-Americans under the control of prison and corrections departments today than were ever enslaved by this country. Even the current head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, and more recently the Global Commission on Drug Policy, have announced that the drug war has been an abject disaster.

Read the whole thing, which makes a concise tally of the major ways in which the drug war has failed in all its proponents' goals and continues to spread nothing but misery and pain to innocent civilians in this, America's longest-running war.

And check out this heavily documented report from the folks at Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which notes that "fully 76% of the American people and 69% of chiefs of police have declared the drug war a failure."

NEXT: We Are Out of Money: State Budgets Edition

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  1. I think the 1 trillion pricetag doesn’t even begin to do the war on drugs justice. I think quite a few of the “drug dealers” who we lock up would do very well in the private sector and were merely drawn to drugs as an easy way to make money. No drug laws mean the easy way to make money disappears…they have to move to a legit business, benefiting everyone.

    There is no way to add that opportunity cost to the calculation, of course, so no one has bothered.

    1. “I think the 1 trillion pricetag doesn’t even begin to do the war on drugs justice.”

      And think of how much weed that money could have bought.

  2. …the drug war has failed in all its proponents’ goals…

    Ah, but you’re assuming that the publicly stated goals are the actual ones. It is only a failure when judged by that criteria.

    If the actual goals are, 1) to massivly expand gov’t power and intrusion into everyday life, 2) to find ways to chip at and erode the constitution until there’s nothing left of the BoR, 3) to lock up minorities (who were largely radicalized at the time) and other undesirables who probably aren’t going to vote the way you want them to (esp. if you’re Richard Nixon), and 4) to develop an unbeatable, trans-generation bogeyman with which to constantly beat constituents over the head and frighten them with stories of addicts under their childrens’ beds (unless they constantly vote to increase funding and power, and reduce oversight, for the gov’t), then the War on Drugs has been a smashing, astounding, unbelievable success.

    1. Abetted by useful idiots who argue that backing off the WoD in the least will enable the moral destruction of human souls.

    2. I don’t think the government is competent enough to construct a War on Drugs to erode the Constitution, lock up minorities, etc. I think it was much more simple than that. You had panic and moral outrage coming out of the ’60s and politicians exploited that so they could get elected, and re-elected, and re-elected… Sure, lots of horrible things happened as a result, but I would guess 99% of drug war actions undertaken by politicians was nothing more than pandering to voters and/or pandering to special interests who were filling their coffers.

      1. I agree CMS. Why does everything have to be a giant conspiracy theory? Why can it not be more simply that rent-seekers will be rent-seekers? That’s not a consipracy, it is part of the human condition.

        1. I don’t think this is exactly a conspiracy theory. UFOs plotted with the preserved brain of FDR to allow the Illuminati to sieze world control through the Drug War is a conspiracy theory. “Gov’t seeks bullshit means to increase it’s coercive power over citizens” seems to be a pretty straightforward and easy thing to believe.

      2. I was a living voter during this period and must agree whole-heartedly with your analysis. If an employer doesn’t want drug users then require UA’s. The same should hold for receiving taxpayer money. This would ‘mostly’ eliminate the demand for drugs. The Federal Gov’t and military have proven this.

        1. Exactly. It pisses me off that someone who smoked pot last weekend would drive on a road that my tax dollars paid for or have firefighters, whose salary I help fund, protect their property.

  3. I won’t dispute that the drug war is vile, but the assertion that there are more black people in prison now than there were slaves in the US in 1850 is flat-out incorrect. There were more than three million slaves at that time. I don’t know where the author got his info but he is exaggerating.

    1. They don’t say in prison, they say under the control of prison and corrections departments. That number would include parolees, of which there are undoubtedly millions.

      1. My bad. I didn’t digest the article properly.

      2. But, isn’t their plight self-induced? Where is the black leadership? The NAACP is more worried about keeping union teacher jobs.

  4. Gotta repost. The whole page is a drug warrior’s propaganda-fueled wet dream:

    Apparently Holland, Portugal, and Switzerland struggle with the realities of permissive drug laws.

    1. They are hellholes compared to northern Mexico and the jungles of Colombia.

    2. If you’re a cop, eliminating violence is something to struggle with. It means you might be out of job soon.

    3. I hope they keep on ‘struggling’.

    4. Wow, talk about twisting around the information into pretzels to make it sound how you want it to. They take specialized time tables (drug use down in last 20 years), subgroups (federal prisons only have 5% of people in jail for simple possession), and bizarre comparisons (six times as many murders by people on drugs as by people trying to buy drugs… wtf??) to avoid the two main realities, which are that the black market in drugs is the primary cause of drug-related violence, and civil rights are being destroyed.

  5. Of coursen a utilitarian treatise on what’s wrong with the war on drugs mentions everything but freedom. Derp.

  6. In the tradition of great government policy, the drug war actually creates the very problems it purports to address.

    Ask most people why drugs should be illegal, and a lot of the ills they cite are actually a product of the black market in drugs. Which of course is a creation of the drug war.

    1. You spin me right round, baby, right round, like that statist “logic,” right round round round.

      1. It is YOU who has it backwards. It makes me believe that you do these drugs. You should be in jail too.

    2. Nonsense, it’s inherent in the drugs! Look at these victims of drug trafficking!

    3. Here, have a more serious response than my last one. What you say reminds me of what went through my mind when I was a teenager watching a show on the horrors of prostitution. Even though I was socially conservative at the time and badly wanted to believe in what the show was saying, I couldn’t help noticing how many of those horrors were the direct results of outlawing prostitution.

    4. In the tradition of great government policy, the drug war actually creates the very problems it purports to address.

      Bureaucracy never eliminates itself, but perpetuates itself and even looks to expand itself. We started a War on Drugs, there are more drug users and more drugs now than there were when we started (actually started as in with the FDA, not Nixon).

      If the Drug War were over, a lot of people would lose a lot of money and some would even lose their jobs.

  7. “fully 76% of the American people and 69% of chiefs of police have declared the drug war a failure.”

    What the unwashed masses want doesn’t matter, except on subjects on which they can be trusted to agree with me, like same-sex marriage.

  8. You can’t legalize drugs until you fully dismantle the government health care system.

    I really don’t who takes what drugs as long as:

    1. They stay away from me and my family.

    2. I’m not paying for their treatment, rehab, whatever.

    1. Both 1 and 2 seem to me to happen regardless of the legality or illegality of drugs.

      Hell, if all guns were banned but everyone thought the “war on guns” was a bad idea and wanted to legalize them….a gun prohibitionist could make both your arguments about guns.

      1. Not if I shoot him first.

    2. You can’t legalize drugs until you fully dismantle the government health care system.

      Sure we can, you just don’t want it done that way.

      So you are ok with using tax dollars toward interdiction and incarceration under the WOD, but are against using those same dollars toward rehab? IOW, you are happy to pay your taxes to lock up addicts, but not help them kick their addiction. Whatever.

      Yours is the usual argument made by someone who can no longer defend the WOD, but still wants it anyway. They put forth some other nearly impossible condition (e.g. fully dismantle the govt. healthcare sys) to be met before they will agree to support ending the WOD. As this is unlikely, they get act as if they want the drug war to end and shift blame elsewhere for its continuation.

      Are you related to Pontius Pilate?

      1. We all are, kid.

  9. there are more African-Americans under the control of prison and corrections departments today than were ever enslaved by this country.

    ….sigh….. Oh wait, never mind. They are brown people, hell they are even darker than brown people. They way way WAY don’t count.

  10. If you want to eliminate the drug cartels, make them compete against Walmart, CVS, and Abbott. They won’t last a year.

    1. But they have curbside service!

  11. I’ve often wondered, if the WOD stopped tomorrow what would immediately replace it as the motivation/pretext for most police stops, searches and other intrusions?

    Terror? Illegal immigrants?

    1. Body mass Index?

    2. Good question. You could end the drug war over night, but the massive state apparatus built to fight it will take years to dismantle.

      1. No, it’ll only take one budget cycle.

    3. I’ll take Terrorism for $500, Alex.

  12. If you think the War on Drugs is the right thing to do check your premises, you will find one of them is wrong.

  13. The War on Drugs failed Billions of dollars ago! This money could have been used for outreach programs to clean up the bad end of drug abuse by providing free HIV testing, free rehab, and clean needles. Harmless drugs like marijuana could be legalized to help boost our damaged economy. Cannabis can provide hemp for countless natural recourses and the tax revenue from sales alone would pull every state in our country out of the red! Vote Teapot, PASS IT, and legalize it. Voice you opinion with the movement and check out my pro-cannabis art at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot…..-2011.html

  14. Clearly we need another ‘surge.’

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