Last March Mother Jones, which usually inveighs against the war on drugs, discovered its inner prohibitionist, warning that "More Cocaine Could Soon Be on Our Streets, Thanks to the Sequester." Its "48 Ways a Government Shutdown Will Screw You Over," by contrast, does not include compromising the government's ability to insert itself between you and the psychoactive substances you want—possibly because the Drug Enforcement Administration will remain on the job no matter what happens. According to the Justice Department's current contingency plan, 87 percent of the DEA's staff will be exempt from furloughs because "DEA investigations need to continue uninterrupted so that cases are not compromised and the health and safety of the American public is not placed at risk."
For those who question the connection between DEA investigations and the health and safety of the American public, a fortuitously timed BMJ study provides new ammunition. Looking at data on drug price, purity, and seizures from seven different sources since 1990, a team of Canadian and American researchers finds little evidence that the work of agencies like the DEA has anything to do with the availability of arbitrarily proscribed intoxicants, let alone health and safety:
In the United States, cannabis seizures have increased by 465 per cent between 1990 and 2009. Despite this, the average inflation- and potency-adjusted prices of cannabis decreased by 86 per cent over the same period, and the average potency of the drug increased by 161 per cent. In addition, the average inflation- and purity-adjusted prices of heroin and cocaine decreased by 81 per cent and 80 per cent respectively, whereas average purity increased by 60 per cent and 11 per cent. This occurred despite the fact that seizures of these drugs in major production regions outside of the U.S. generally increased. Similar trends were observed in Europe, where during the same period the average inflation-adjusted price of opiates and cocaine decreased by 74 per cent and 51 per cent respectively….
With few exceptions and despite increasing investments in enforcement-based supply reduction efforts aimed at disrupting global drug supply, illegal drug prices have generally decreased while drug purity has generally increased since 1990. These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing.
In other words, drug warriors are falling abysmally short of their own avowed goals, leaving aside any moral compunctions about using force to stop people from altering their consciousness in ways you don't like. This is Barack Obama's idea of essential government services—or, as he used to call it, "an utter failure."