The War on Drugs

Please read the disclaimer. I am definitely not a libertarian anymore, but I am still opposed to the war on drugs. Written in 1997.

Or: the War on the American People
The federal government of the United States has spent nearly 150 billion dollars since the beginning of the Reagan era in an attempt to curb drug use in the US. The so-called War on Drugs has been an enormous burden on the American tax-paying public. It is also an utter failure.

Before I go any further with this argument, I must state that I do not condone the use of drugs, nor have I ever, or do I ever plan on using any sort of strong, addictive substance (except, of course, the occasional caffeine hit when finals time comes around).

In 1919, the 18th amendment banned the sale of alcohol in the US. This was in the hopes that alcohol consumption would go down to the point that the US would be a "sober" country. Although alcohol consumption did go down for a little while, the prohibition caused the rise of a new criminal subculture.

Alcohol being an illegal substance, the people who sold it could fix prices high. Lucrative profits could be made by those willing to circumvent the law, and competition ensued. And as in every other situation where there is competition between people who are already sneaking behind the law, violence ensued. Prohibition, it turned out, did not in any way help to make the United States a sober country, instead, it simply caused a great increase in crime. In 1933, the 21st amendment repealed the Volstead act, ending prohibition. It had failed.

Laws prohibiting stronger drugs, however, had been instituted as well, and remained in place. These laws have not proven to be effective in preventing drug use, and in fact, have allowed crime to proliferate anywhere there was a demand for drugs. This crime has caused far more damage to our society than the drugs that the laws are trying to prevent.

    "As a former drugs squad chief, I've seen too many youngsters die. I'm determined my children don't get hooked - which is why I want all drugs legalized.
    Seven years of my life was spent in Scotland Yard's anti-drugs squad, four as its head. I saw the misery that drug abuse can cause. I saw first-hand the squalor, the wrecked lives, the deaths. And I saw, and arrested when I could, the people who do so well out of drugs; the dealers, the importers, the organizers. I saw the immense profits they were making out of human misery, the money laundering, the crime syndicates they financed. We have attempted prohibition. All that happened was that courts became clogged with thousands of cases of small, individual users, and a generation of young people came to think of the police as their enemies. There were no resources left to fight other crime. I say legalize drugs because I want to see less drug abuse, not more. And I say legalize drugs because I want to see the criminals put out of business."
      -Edward Ellison, Former Head of Scotland Yard's Anti-Drugs Squard
      Daily Mail, London, England, March 10, 1998
This quote, I feel, pretty much summarizes the argument against prohibition. Prohibition does not target the root of the drug problem: the drug dealers. It targets instead the individual users, people who do not harm society in any other way. But those who import the drugs are making millions of these poor people who suffer. Without drug laws, importing drugs would not be nearly as profitable. Legal competition would drive prices on drugs way down.

Certainly, many breweries make money selling beer, but when is the last time you reports of Coors assassinating the head of a rival beer company, or of violence breaking out in some inner city because two rival wine sellers disputing over some turf?

And it has yet to be proven that Prohibition actually significantly lowers drugs use. The Center for Drug Research at the University of Amsterdam, for example, found that that only 2 to 3% of Dutch over age 12 have used marijuana over a one-month period. Marijuana is legal in the Netherlands, and is available in Dutch coffee shops. According to a government study in the United States, about 5% of the American population use marijuana at least once a month.

The argument that marijuana use inevitably leads to use of harder drugs is also unproven. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administation's "1996 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse", there are about 3,600,000 18- to 25- year olds who have used marijuana in the last month. The number of 18- to 25- year-olds who have used heroin in the last month, by comparison, is a mere 100,000.

And what's this? The New England Journal of Medicine reported that properly described legal drugs kill more than 100,000 Americans every year. That's 20 times more than illegal drugs! Perhaps the government should make aspirin illegal. After all, it killed twice as many people last year as PCP and LSD combined. Check out this webpage for more info.

Well, I could dig up plenty more factoids for you to consider, but basically, my argument comes down to a couple things:
  1. The War On Drugs is costing taxpayers billions of dollars.
    I don't care for the fact that people are smoking all sorts of weird things, but I've no desire to help pay for the government to go after them and lock these people up.
  2. The War On Drugs has yet to prove to be very effective.
    In some areas, and for some drugs, drug use actually seems to be increasing.
  3. The War On Drugs punishes the individual users and allows dealers to get rich.
    Why punish the poor when you can much more easily punish the people who are getting rich by making the drugs legal?

    Hopefully I will actually have time someday to write a good article in this place. For now, it's mainly just a collection of all the stats I've collected.