Practical Solutions to End the War on Drugs - Alex Wodak HuffPo: The Associated Press has just dropped a bombshell on America's longest running wa
May 15, 2010

Practical Solutions to End the War on Drugs - Alex Wodak


The Associated Press has just dropped a bombshell on America's longest running war and the headline says it all: "The US Drug War has Met None of its Goals".

The extensive piece reviews the last 40 years, starting with President Nixon's official launch of the War on Drugs all the way to President Obama's annual strategy released this week. [..]

The piece packs a punch from the start: "After 40 years, the United States' War on Drugs has cost $1 trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence more brutal and widespread."

Contemplate that number for a minute: ONE TRILLION DOLLARS. These costs are absurd:

In 40 years, taxpayers spent more than:

_ $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico — and the violence along with it.

_ $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No"-style messages to America's youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have "risen steadily" since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.

_ $49 billion for law enforcement along America's borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.

_ $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.

_ $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.

At the same time, drug abuse is costing the nation in other ways. The Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse — "an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction" — cost the United States $215 billion a year.

And for what? Drug use is no lower. Violent crimes related to drugs are up. And nearly half of our overly-crowded prisons are in there for drug offenses. There is absolutely nothing constructive to show for this 40 year boondoggle. Hell, we could have used that money to implement a Single Payer system, something we could see a very tangible benefit from in a short period of time.

Here in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has introduced a budget with brutal cuts:

Schwarzenegger's budget would eliminate CalWORKS, the state's welfare-to-work program. Families would lose both state grants (of about $500 per month) and state-subsidized day care. The budget would slash 60 percent of the state's spending for county mental health programs. In-home health care programs for the elderly and the disabled would lose about a third of their funding. And the state would grab about $880 million from state transportation projects in an attempt to balance the budget. All state workers would face a wage cut of about 10 percent.

The state has no money and of course, raising taxes is unthinkable (and the ridiculous California initiative system means that short-sighted Californian voters keep blocking bonds), so the least able among us--the elderly, the disabled, families in poverty--must lose the little pittance assistance they get.

Of course, there are those who can't see the forest for the trees and insist that we can't end this war we've already lost:

(Former drug czar John P.) Walters insists society would be far worse today if there had been no War on Drugs. Drug abuse peaked nationally in 1979 and, despite fluctuations, remains below those levels, he says. Judging the drug war is complicated: Records indicate marijuana and prescription drug abuse are climbing, while cocaine use is way down. Seizures are up, but so is availability.

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

I don't know what to tell you, Mr. Walters. When you find yourself in a hole, the smart choice is to stop digging.

Prohibition didn't work, why on earth do we think the equally misguided War on Drugs would be any different? Please, let's just declare the war lost, and look to ways we can legalize drugs, regulate them, tax the hell out of them, and stop throwing little penny ante possession arrests in jail. Anything else is to keep digging that hole in which we sit.

Can you help us out?

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