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Drug War Still a Failure

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

According to an in-depth AP article today, the War on (some) Drugs is an abject failure. This should surprise just about nobody, although apparently there are some who remain shocked to find gambling at Rick’s Cafe as well.

The current Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, even admitted on record that “In the grand scheme, it has not been successful.” Naturally, his predecessor, John Walters, takes the opposite tack: “To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven’t made any difference is ridiculous. 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.” Sorry to say, Mr. Walters, but you can’t change reality just by wishing it wasn’t just a giant waste of time and money.

One trillion dollars spent over forty years, in order to prove that Prohibition was not an anomaly? We’ve been inundated with “Just Say No” and DARE and other programs, yet high school kids have the same rate of drug use today as in 1970, when Nixon kicked this thing off. $450 billion has been spent to incarcerate drug offenders in federal prison (no mention of how much states spend in addition), where most data indicates incarceration leads to increased drug usage when released.

Portugal decriminalized drug use in 2001. Decriminalization is not legalization – it just means a user won’t go to jail for doing drugs; the drugs themselves remain illegal to deal. I know, strange but that’s the legal system for you. In the years since, HIV infections from dirty needles have dropped by 70%, and drug overdoses have dropped by 30%. Also, the rate of young people using drugs has dropped, and the number of people seeking drug treatment has doubled. 10% of Portuguese have used marijuana in their lifetimes; in the USA that number is close to 40%.

The United States has 5% of the world population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. We must be doing something wrong.