Many years ago H.L Mencken, the storied American journalist, essayist, magazine editor,
satirist, critic of American life and culture, and scholar of American English had some interesting things to say about Prohibition. “Prohibition has not only failed in its promises but actually created additional serious and disturbing social problems throughout society. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. … The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.” It’s been over 79 years since the error that was Prohibition was repealed. Mencken’s description of the situation seems to apply to our own modern day Prohibition…what has been going on for decades without result…what we call the WAR ON DRUGS. Originally this “war” was originally brainchild of President Nixon, the
war actually started long before his term when in the early 20th century the US government sought to restrict the sale of many different types of drugs deemed dangerous to the populace. President Reagan picked up the torch in the early 80’s making a strong commitment by the Federal government to limit the trafficking of drugs into the US and by also encouraging a policy of little tolerance against the use of drugs. There is a fundamental flaw with the war on drugs as it has been instituted and carried out these many years. That flaw is the lumping of all drugs, addictive, recreational, and
otherwise, into one big illegal satchel. Thus hardened drug-business criminals and pot smoking students; mobsters and small time drug users, have all been washed down the same drain filling our prisons with people, many of whom really don’t belong there, sucking money out of the economy and the government budgets.
So now we find ourselves here in 2013, some 40 year plus years after Nixon’s declaration of a war on drugs in basically the same place we started. We’ve spent well over 1 trillion dollars and we have NOTHING to show for it. Today’s headline in NEWSDAY shouts, “NEW HEROIN SURGE ON LONG ISLAND’. Apparently the sustained efforts of the government’s “war” have had little affect on the problem.
Of course all of these issues are tangled in a inter-connected web of chaos and intrigue. There have been side-effects of this war that no one counted on. Sir Richard Branson, the founder of VIRGIN GROUP, and a member of the GLOBAL DRUG COMMISSION had
this to say to CNN interviewer Erin Burnett on her program OUT FRONT. “The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, with about 2.3 million behind bars. More than half a million of those people are incarcerated for a drug law violation. What a waste of young lives. In business, if one of our companies is failing, we take steps to identify and solve the problem. What we don’t do is continue failing strategies that cost huge sums of money and exacerbate the problem. Rather than continuing on the disastrous path of the war on drugs, we need to look at what works and what doesn’t in terms of real evidence and data.
The facts are overwhelming. If the global drug trade were a country, it would have one of the top 20 economies in the world. In 2005, the United Nations estimated the global illegal drug trade is worth more than $320 billion. It also estimates there are 230 million illegal drug users in the world, yet 90% of them are not classified as problematic.
In the United States, if illegal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those on alcohol and tobacco, they would yield $46.7 billion in tax revenue. A Cato study says legalizing drugs would save the U.S. about $41 billion a year in enforcing the drug laws. Have U.S. drug laws reduced drug use? No. The U.S. is the No. 1 nation in the world in illegal drug use. As with Prohibition, banning alcohol didn’t stop people drinking — it just stopped people obeying the law. About 40,000 people were in U.S. jails and prisons for drug crimes in 1980, compared with more than 500,000 today. Excessively long prison sentences and locking up people for small drug offenses contribute greatly to this ballooning of the prison population’.
Sir Richard also brings out another important point often overlooked.
“It also represents racial discrimination and targeting disguised as drug policy. People of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than white people — yet from 1980 to 2007, blacks were arrested for drug law violations at rates 2.8 to 5.5 times higher than white arrest rates.”
Finally the issue comes down to EDUCATION. An effective program that teaches children at a young age what the truths of drug use are, could make great headway in stemming drug use. Branson continues, “A Pew study says it costs the U.S. an average of $30,000 a year to incarcerate an inmate, but the nation spends only an average $11,665 per public school student. The future of our nations and our children should be our priority. We should be helping people addicted to drugs break their habits rather than putting users in prison”.
War on Drugs?!? Not really. A better description would be a useless, costly, degrading and racist program that does very little to fix the problem. As is the case with so many situations, EDUCATION is the key. Spend money to EDUCATE and you’ll end up spending a lot less to INCARCERATE
- David Simon on the War on Drugs and the NSA Revelations (anhonestdayortwo.com)
- A Winning Argument in 60 Seconds: End the War on Drugs (bigthink.com)
- Time to change drug policy (utsandiego.com)