Any way you look at it, America’s war on drugs is a consummate failure. According to drugwarfacts.org an estimated 23.9 million Americans over the age of twelve admit to some form of illicit drug use. That’s 9.2 percent of the entire American population, up from 8.1 percent in 2008. The reality is simple: If drug use is increasing, then the war on drugs cannot be working. However, rising drug use is not the only failure of the anti-drug initiative, nor is it the most damaging.
Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Bumpy Johnson and Dutch Schultz are just a few of the more famous criminals from the era of alcohol prohibition. Prior to alcohol prohibition, all of the above were petty thugs making a living off extortion and robbery. Their influence was limited to that which they had power over (i.e. their own neighborhoods). Alcohol prohibition gave these men the opportunity to take advantage of the economic realities of supply and demand. Within a few seasons, men who were once nothing more than street corner punks, had fashioned a highly lucrative, nationwide criminal empire selling illegal alcohol. All it took was one shortsighted law to usher in modern organized crime. Today’s drug dealers took a page from history. It’s too bad our lawmakers didn’t have the same breadth of vision.
The writer and philosopher George Santayana once stated that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The failed policies of alcohol prohibition and the resultant rise of powerful crime syndicates should have served as a lesson to today’s lawmakers. If the people want something (even if it is something illegal), someone will supply what they want. What’s more, drug laws – issued mainly under the banner of “public safety” – actually hurt American citizens more than they help them. Here are a few examples:
1. Lost Revenue and Tax Increases Due to Rising Prison Populations
Of the estimated 2.2 million inmates in America’s prison system almost half are there on drug related charges, but few are what most would consider drug “King Pins.” Our prison system leaches about $74 billion from taxpayers each year.
2. Higher Crime Rates
Those who deal drugs are in some cases connected with nationwide (sometimes international) drug cartels. These organizations are involved in a plethora of criminal activities, from selling guns and contract murder, to prostitution and extortion. Career criminals are the real moneymakers in the drug trade, and their existence drives the most heinous, widespread crimes in America.
3. Social Breakdown
Because the drug trade is unregulated, users use as much as they want; dealers deal as much as they can, and social problems mount. Overdoses are everyday news, drug addicted teens are still having babies, and drug cartels are killing each other and anyone else who gets in their way. Add to that the number of HIV cases attributed to shared hypodermic needles, car crash fatalities due to drug addled drivers, and the amount of burglaries and robberies committed to obtain drug money, and the drug trade begins to look like what it really is: Directly responsible for most of the crime committed in the United States.
This is just a small sample of what the drug trade has done to America, and the same conditions persisted during the prohibition era. Our leaders should have seen this coming, and some are slowly realizing the truth. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in August that he plans to change current federal guidelines regarding mandated sentence minimums. Holder stated that those “who have no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels,” will no longer receive mandatory minimum sentences. Holder’s statement is a great departure from 1970’s thinking, when then New York governor Nelson Rockefeller stated that, “For drug pushing, life sentence, no parole, no probation.”
Nonetheless, critics of current drug policy contend that Holder’s actions don’t go far enough, and that America should follow the European model of government controlled drug distribution, with the most illicit drugs (cocaine, heroin, etc.) being strictly controlled by government agencies. Others claim that too much government money funds punishment rather than treatment, ignoring demand to focus solely on supply.
It would be juvenile to think that legalizing all drugs would eliminate the above-mentioned social ills, but one thing is sure: Current drug policy is not working. As the cost of fighting the War on Drugs increases, as prison populations climb and society breaks down, it becomes obvious that America is losing the War on Drugs, and we need new tactics.