Sunday, May 16, 2010

$1 Trillion Spent on War on Drugs, To Little Overall Benefit

Found this online Friday.  This is likely to grind some people's gears big-time, but here goes...

I used to be a strong supporter of the War on Drugs, primarily due to the rather scary effects of PCP and other, harder drugs.

Then, when I was a senior in high school, I reached the conclusion that punishing non-violent drug offenders was just as morally bankrupt as punishing non-violent gun offenders (something I already opposed).  If you light up a joint in your basement or if you keep an AK-47 in your basement and it doesn't affect anyone else, it is nobody's business but yours.

Furthermore research confirmed my position.  Particularly galling is the fact that the drug war has been used to enable police abuses--if an officer finds drugs on your property, even if someone else put them there (say, some pothead toking up on your property when you're not there), they can confiscate your property and due-process doesn't apply, since it's allegedly the property being punished and not the person.

Here are some articles about the abuses of asset-forfeiture laws, typically done as the result of the war on drugs:

Even worse is when the drug-war laws allow unethical government agencies to deliberately destroy people by framing them for involvement in the drug trade, something that's much easier than, say, framing them for illegally dumping toxic waste or for murder:,0,6051682.story

(Lest anyone think otherwise, the above portion is not an attack on law-enforcement officers who are ethical and do not abuse their positions--the majority of the profession.  They are the thin blue line protecting decent folk from the hooliganry and it is in the interest of the police profession as a whole to end the WoD, both to prevent abuses of it from tarring their good name and to enable them to focus on things that are a greater danger to the community.)

One thing in the article in particular stuck out at me:

"To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous," (former drug czar John P.) Walters said. "It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcment, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided."

Is the government's Herculean effort to eradicate illegal drug use in this country so weak that mere criticism can "destroy everything we've done"?  Given the vast amounts of effort spent on it, the vast leviathans of governmental and law-enforcement power brought to bear on the problem, that's pretty pathetic if it's true.

(It's not.)

Furthermore, criticizing the drug war is not the same as criticizing drug treatment and prevention.  I don't think anyone sane who opposes the drug war also opposes telling kids not to start doing drugs or treating people who are addicted. 

Drug use is a destructive, nasty thing that ruins lives and in many cases kills people.  In an earlier Facebook note, I suggested making schoolkids watch the films Requiem for a Dream and Alpha Dog to open their eyes to the brutal reality of drug addiction and dealing.  Especially Requiem--that movie is scary.

My concern is that the cure is worse than the disease, especially given the abuses that it has enabled and the mind-bogglingly vast financial cost. 

And thirdly, Walters' argument comes off as really politically-correct.  "Don't say that, it's offensive!"  Other than his opening sentence, he makes no attempt to defend the drug war on factual grounds--instead, he resorts to claims that this is insulting to everyone who has tried to fight drug abuse.

Since I don't like to criticize without offering a solution, here is an idea:

The way the government deals with alcohol (destructive if overused) and cigarettes (destructive in general, and more addictive than some illegal drugs) might be better--regulate and tax to reduce the harm and generate revenue and use some of that revenue fund prevention and treatment efforts.

This could serve as a means of replacing the revenues law-enforcement agencies might lose if the drug-war-spawned asset-forfeiture ends. 

After all, legalizing and taxing marijuana alone could generate $40 billion to $100 billion per year.

Imagine all the money currently flowing to the drug gangs instead flowing into the local, state, and federal governments.  That's a veritable river of cash that can be used to close the deficit, pay down debt, keep other taxes low, and invest in worthwhile projects.


  1. Well said. The War on Drugs has been a failure and has served to benefit no one except drug dealers and certain members of government. If you really want to win the war on drugs, legalize most of them and tax the crap out of them and watch a lot of the problems start to disappear.

  2. Good analysis, Matt- here in Singapore we do tightly crack down on drugs but then we can. Keeping a tight customs cordon around a tiny island to minimise the amount that gets through is much more feasible than cordoning off the entire US. Since (as with Prohibition) elimination is impossible to achieve, regulation would be much more in the social interest. Why should all that money go to fund organised crime when it could be taxed and pumped back into the community?