Prohibition. The term has become synonymous with failure in the U.S. political system. The Eighteenth Amendment was one of the most abysmal catastrophes in domestic policy for America. It was the only piece of legislation that was repealed by a constitutional amendment in the history of this nation. Adam Smith, the very founder of capitalism himself, noted in his Wealth of Nations that should there be a demand for a commodity, there will most certainly be a commensurate supply. The legality of that supply is wholly up to the discretion of the government of the land, and just as alcohol has been a staple in society for millennia, so too has narcotics. From the cannabis cultivated in the Indus Valley, to the opiates of Sumer, and even the psilocybin abundant across the ancient Americas, drugs have always been a facet of human civilization (Chayka). Any notion to prohibit such a universal aspect of humanity will be met with the same abysmal failure that was Prohibition; however, on June 17th of 1971, President Richard Nixon decided to do just that. What followed is what economists and political scientists the world over say may be the greatest legislative blunder of the twentieth century. Today, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the War on Drugs has been lost, and yet the United States continues its self-righteous campaign. The current policy on the eradication of the illegal drug trade needs to end because of its utter inability to produce viable results, its extravagant waste of resources, and its extremely violent consequences.
Proponents of the War on Drugs claim that the policy is keeping our children safe and our streets clean, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. If the War on Drugs were really as effective as legislators would have the public believe, drug use should decrease if anything; however, statistics prove just the opposite. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “fatal drug overdoses in America were the highest in recorded history in 2014 (Nesbit).” Drug overdoses had claimed more than 50,000 American lives in 2014 alone, which is greater than the number of deaths caused by auto accidents. That’s right. Drugs are killing more people than cars in America. Surely, however, that number must have decreased since the policy was implemented, but the number of Americans who died from fatal drug overdoses in 2014 is double the number of Americans who succumbed to drug overdose in 2000 (Seelye). Many researchers believe that the increasing death toll comes from the ineffective and sometimes downright false educational policies. According to the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is just as dangerous as heroin which many DARE programs would have students believe; however, the CDC accounts for a total of 0 deaths from cannabis use in all recorded history. Heroin on the other hand was responsible for 28,000 deaths in 2014 alone while alcohol, a completely legal, recreational substance, was responsible for over 29,000 deaths (McVay). To those who would argue that ending the War on Drugs would lead to a massive loss of life, why should alcohol, a substance that is responsible for far more fatalities than any illegal drug, be permitted by law? Furthermore, the U.S. policy on drugs has done absolutely nothing to curb the use of narcotics. In fact, the opposite has happened since Nixon began his quest to eradicate drug use. Today 44% of Americans admit to using marijuana compared to a measly 4% in 1969 (McCarthy). Many will argue, however, that legalizing these illicit substances will cause a sharp increase in use and casualties should these drugs become widely available, but research once again proves contradictory. In a paper published in February of 2015, the Drug Policy Alliance took a close look at Portugal’s policy change towards illicit substances. In 2001 “Portugal enacted one of the most extensive drug law reforms in the world when it decriminalized low-level possession and use of all illicit drugs nearly a decade and a half ago.” Deaths from drug overdoses decreased by 80%, and drug use has fallen to a mere 2%. The Drug Policy Alliance goes on to say that “Portugal shows that decriminalization does not inevitably lead to increases in drug use, nor does it lead to a culture of lawlessness. Indeed, none of the fears of critics have come to pass.” Today Portugal remains among the nations with the lowest prevalence of narcotics (“Drug Decriminalization in Portugal”). By all accounts of research and data, why should Americans be spending money on a policy that simply doesn’t work?
Waste of taxpayer money, the very thought enrages Americans across the nation. When the Department of Defense spent $6.8 million on professional sports teams in 2013, massive protests erupted in D.C. that led to a senatorial investigation headed by Arizona Senator John McCain (Barron-Lopez, Waldron). However, every year the United States spends more than $51 billion to fund the War on Drugs. That’s more than 7,500 times the amount spent on the sports scandal. To put that into perspective, the United States only spends $37 billion annually on education (Chantrill). It’s a saddening thought, the thought that the United States spends more money on a failing policy that does the opposite of what it was intended to do than it spends on the education of its children. Small wonder American students are sliding behind their global counterparts. Imagine the money that could be used if the funding for the War on Drugs (which has by all means failed) was diverted to the nation’s school systems: higher teacher salaries, which would attract better educated and effective educators, more research into effective learning, and more enriching programs for students to name a few. Not only is the War on Drugs a waste of financial resources, it’s a waste in nearly every other type of resource. Police forces are over extended to facilitate a broken system. The New York Police Department alone has spent over 1,000,000 man hours processing and arresting citizens for minor drug offenses (Newman). U.S. prison populations are skyrocketing to unprecedented, overcrowded levels. Today the United States has the largest prison population in the world of over 2.2 million, which totals to 737 per 100,000. To compare, China has a prison population of 1.5 million, which totals to 118 per 100,000 (“World Prison Populations”). China, a country with over four and a half times the population of the United States, has less than one sixth of the prison population. These numbers are frightening, if not Orwellian, especially coming from China, a nation that has been heavily stigmatized in the American psyche for its brutal communist approach to society with little to no free speech and heavy censorship. 50% of U.S. inmates are serving prison time for drug related offenses. Meanwhile, violent offenders represent only 7% of the federal prison population. In 2014 the United States Sentencing Commission approved the early release of thousands of federal inmates due to overcrowded prison populations to make room for non-violent drug offenders of victimless crimes, whose gravest sin was getting high off a bowl of weed. Those granted approval for early release include criminals guilty of assault, rape, and murder (Goodlatte). Not only has the War on Drugs failed, it has failed stupendously.
The Great Emu War of 1932 resulted in a devastating and humiliating loss for Australian forces. Armed with machine guns, the Royal Australian Artillery failed to cull the Campion district’s wild Emu population which had been ravaging crops throughout the region. Laughable though it may be, it presents a fitting analogy to the American War on Drugs. Despite overwhelmingly superior firepower, the war did little to nothing in preventing Australian farmlands from being ravaged by the hungry Emu population. So too has America’s massive dedication of resources and manpower done similarly to prevent narcotics from ravaging the U.S. population. In fact, the War on Drugs has enabled a far more violent situation, drug cartels. In 2011 a bus from San Fernando on its way to Reynosa came upon a highway blockade composed of trucks headed by masked men armed with AR-15s. Hijacking the public transport, members of the Los Zetas cartel brought the bus to the middle of nowhere where over twenty other empty buses, riddled with bullet holes, stood waiting. The male passengers of the latest bus were forced outside where they were given bats and clubs. Los Zetas promptly ordered the hostages to beat each other to death in a gladiatorial fashion akin to ancient Rome. One begged to leave, and Treviño Morales, a commander in the cartel, bashed the victim’s head in until the remnants of his brain and shards of his skull splattered across the ground. Meanwhile, the women were raped in front of their husbands as they swung at each other with baseball bats made of iron. The children were dumped into vats of acid as they cried and screamed. The bus driver was forced to drive over the survivors as they begged for mercy. Officials later found 193 corpses in mass graves at the site (Sahagun). Events like the San Fernando massacre are daily occurrences in Mexico where the drug cartels have taken power, and these drug cartels thrive on the U.S. War on Drugs. In 2007 more than 164,000 people lost their lives in the Drug War in Mexico alone (Breslow). The black market for narcotics have created the ideal conditions for rampant violence and corruption. The staggering profits that stem from trafficking illegal drugs have turned Latin America into a bloodbath. What could possibly be done to end this senseless brutality? End the War on Drugs. Jeffrey Miron, a senior lecturer on economics at Harvard University, has this to say on the matter
Prohibition creates violence because it drives the drug market underground. This means buyers and sellers cannot resolve their disputes with lawsuits, arbitration, or advertising, so they resort to violence instead. Violence was common in the alcohol industry when it was banned during Prohibition, but not before or after.
U.S. legalization in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska has already seen a huge impact on the Mexican drug cartel. Levels of confiscated cannabis by U.S. Border Patrol has dropped by 32% since the legalization of recreational marijuana. Homicides in Mexico have dropped from 23,000 to 15,649. Mexican officials attribute these statistics directly to the legalization of recreational marijuana in the four aforementioned states (Grillo). Imagine the results if all illicit substances were legalized. The cartels would vanish overnight.
The U.S. policy towards drugs has been a complete and utter defeat; that much is clear. However, the extent to which the United States has been defeated is beyond the scope of imagination. The policy has not only failed to prevent drug use and stem the drug trade, it has actually facilitated it. More Americans are using drugs than ever before, and more Americans are dying from drugs than ever before. The cost of such a policy is so enormous that it has led to a prison population higher than any other in the world, and more money than it takes to run all the school systems in the country. The sheer cost of life is abominable, not only in this country, but it has spread to corrupt its neighbors. It is time that the United States admits its defeat because we’ve lost the War on Drugs.
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