Tuesday, August 28, 2018

War On Drugs Continues To Be A Costly Failure

Public views and attitudes continue to shift concerning the cost of America's decades-long war on drugs. The program has garnered a great deal of criticism over the years because funding for law enforcement is often based on the number of arrests made and the amount of property seized. This means the easiest way for local police to up their numbers and boost their careers is to target low-level drug offenders. To achieve this police have been accused of routinely relying on untrustworthy informants, conducting dangerous home invasions on flimsy evidence, framing suspects, and committing perjury. As the war on drugs continues each year more people have become addicted to drugs and the overdose rate continues to increase. Ironically much of this stems from an opioid epidemic fostered upon us by the big pharmaceutical companies and the very doctors we trusted to care for our health.

How much does the war on drugs cost?  Enforcing the war on drugs costs the US more than $51 billion each year, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. As of 2012, the US had spent $1 trillion on anti-drug efforts. In 2016 there were 1,572,579 arrests in the U.S. for drug law violations:

Years ago even recently deceased Sen. John McCain indicated his views towards legalizing marijuana were evolving. During a town hall meeting in Phoenix, Arizona McCain is reported to have said  "Maybe we should legalize. We're certainly moving that way as far as marijuana is concerned. I respect the will of the people". If McCain had taken a softer stance on marijuana as a Presidential candidate back in 2008 he would have drawn more of the youth vote and might well have won the election and become President. We can only hope that John McCain’s words on marijuana legalization have encouraged more Republicans to be more open-minded on social issues and follow suit.

Currently, use of marijuana for medical purposes has been legalized in 30 states and eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted expansive laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use. There are numerous reasons that Republicans should support marijuana reform. Republicans in general support state’s rights, smaller government, and want to stop wasteful spending. The war on drugs has been far too costly. We can surrender, redefine the enemy, or change our tactics, but it is clear that victory is not in sight. After the U.S. government spent over $15 billion dollars in 2010 on the War on Drugs at a rate of $500 per second victory remains elusive. To that figure, we can add at least another 25 billion dollars of spending by state and local governments. In the last decade, due almost solely to the surge in drug-related arrests, U.S. prisons are massively overcrowded and underfunded.

Rehabilitation In Prison Is Largely A Myth
It is important to remember the rehabilitation aspect of incarceration is slim to nil. Marijuana constitutes almost half of all drug arrests, between 1990–2002, marijuana accounted for 82% of the increase in the number of drug arrests. In 2004, approximately 12.7% of state prisoners and 12.4% of Federal prisoners were serving time for a marijuana-related offense. President Carter's fear voiced in 1977 that penalties for drugs are doing more damage than drugs themselves rings true.

At the time Carter put forth the following recommendations to address the abysmal failure of the War on Drugs policies:
  1. Decriminalized the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and add a full program to treat addicts.
  2. Remove mandatory minimum sentencing and “three strikes you’re out” laws.
  3. Don’t rely on controlling drug imports from foreign countries. It doesn’t work and is responsible for a terrible escalation in drug-related violence, corruption and gross violations of human rights in a growing number of Latin American countries.        
  4.  Experiment with legal regulation of drugs and thus take away the power of organized crime.

America Puts Way Too Many People In Prison
A 2008 study by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron has estimated that legalizing drugs would benefit  taxpayers $76.8 billion a year in the United States — $44.1 billion from law enforcement savings, and at least $32.7 billion in tax revenue ($6.7 billion from marijuana, $22.5 billion from cocaine and heroin, remainder from other drugs). It is true that many law enforcement lobby groups don’t want to end America’s war against drugs which has cost $1 trillion and counting, but that’s because they’re the reason it’s so expensive. In 2010, a full two-thirds of federal spending on the drug war, $10 billion, went toward law enforcement and interdiction.

Law enforcement rank and file know the truth about the drug war’s profligate and ineffective spending, since marijuana prohibition drives the drug war, these huge costs would end when federal cannabis law changes. Currently, the lawyers, law enforcement officers, and prison systems are the biggest beneficiaries of these laws. Sheriff Tom Allman in Mendocino County, Calif., helped permit, inspect, and protect local cannabis farmers in 2010 and 2011. When asked why, he said: “This county has problems: domestic violence, meth, poverty. Marijuana isn’t even in the top ten. I want it off the front pages so I can deal with the real issues.” All this tends to feed back into the idea that laws that are considered unfair and unevenly enforced weaken trust and faith in our legal system.

With much of the drug war centering around marijuana it has been a slap in the face of the American taxpayers that have spent a fortune on what many see as a misdirected program. The drug war has resulted in trillions of dollars being wasted and misallocated. The governments spending on this program also has devastating human costs that far outweigh the damage caused by drugs alone. Ironically drug prohibition essentially provides a monopoly and price supports for organized crime. By forcibly limiting the supply of drugs while demand remains relatively constant we have increased the profitability of drug trafficking. America needs to end wasteful government spending on the drug war and have the much needed national dialogue about ending prohibition and refocusing resources on health-centered approaches to drug use.

As for adult use and how it might change if marijuana laws are relaxed, the numbers are mixed. A 2011 University of California at Berkeley study, for example, showed a slight increase in adult use with legalization in the Netherlands, though the rate was still lower than in the United States. When the United States’ 40-year-long war on marijuana ends, the country and society are not expected to radically change, but we will see a great deal of drug cartel profits move from the criminal economy to the taxable economy. I'm not advocating marijuana and other drugs become totally unregulated only that a more realistic mature attitude towards them be adopted. Some of the taxes from drug sales should be used to educate people on how not to abuse drugs and the dangers of addiction. It is time we grow up and end this costly war that damages so many young lives.

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Footnote;  Below is a post that delves into how the 1930s propaganda film "Reefer Madness" greatly influenced a whole generation and the laws towards marijuana.

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