An Exposition on Why the War on Drugs Has Failed
May 22nd, 2013
“Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes crimes out of things that are not crimes.”
It’s cost over a trillion dollars, thousands of lives, and has only resulted in a bigger, more powerful enemy. The criminalization and militarization of the fight against substances has failed, and governments should follow Portugal into the future. We must end the drug war, and in doing so help alleviate the racism caused by it.
Our laws are not based on science but rather a mix of propaganda and stigma. For example, according to the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) of the US, marijuana is has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” and is one of “the most dangerous drugs with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”  According to science it can prevent Alzheimer’s, stop tumors from growing, and act as an anti-cancer. It also reduces pain, has no more chemical dependence than caffeine, and has significantly less physical harm than it . There are 0 deaths a year from marijuana use , compared to 100,000 from FDA approved drugs in the US  and 2.5 million world alcohol deaths . This stems from racism, and the fight against the counterculture movement of the 1960’s and 70’s that President Nixon started.
People shouldn’t be imprisoned for what they do to their own body. Drug abuse should be treated as a public health issue, not a criminal issue. The United States has just 5% of the world population, yet it has 25% of the world prison population, largely created by the drug war. The drug war has prevented the United States from giving any money to syringe access programs, which on average decrease HIV spread among those that inject drugs by 80%. 1/3 of HIV cases are caused by syringes. The criminalization of the drug war has cost us well over $1 trillion since Nixon declared it. That’s $170 per person per year in taxes. 
Due to the consequences of prison, the drug war has created institutional racism. Only 13% of the US population is black, yet they make up 59% of those convicted for drug crime. This means relative to population, African Americans are 10.1 times more likely to be sent to prison for drug offenses than whites, even though drug use among the races is equal . Being imprisoned causes loss of employment, food stamp eligibility, public housing, financial aid for college, and the right to vote once one is released. 46% of all arrests are for marijuana, even though science has proven marijuana can even have benefits as a preventative medicine.
Prior to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, crack cocaine had a mandatory sentence of 5 years. Cocaine did not. The weight ratio for punishment was a ridiculous 100 to 1. Crack has historically been mostly used by poorer black people, whereas cocaine powder is more commonly used by richer white people. 
Sending people to prison is not a way to solve problems. We spend over $23,800 a year on each prisoner (compared to $11,665 per year per public school student). Portugal decriminalized all drugs 10 years ago. Drug abuse is down 50%, and 40,000 people are being treated for addiction, rather than the 100,000 people that were imprisoned for use prior to decriminalization. Treatment is more humane, more effective, and cheaper than the prison system. It’s the age old practice of wanting things you can’t have being taken out of the picture. 
A new phenomena in the US is the private prison system. Private prisons force prisoners into slaves, manufacturing products for Microsoft, Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret, Boeing, and the military. Yet we still provide public funding to private prisons. These companies contribute money to politicians and lobby against drug reform. They rely on wrongfully enslaved people. The fact is, law enforcement wants to keep the drug war healthy. Beginning in 1986 law enforcement can use seized drug money as their funding. Meaning they need the drug cartels. Now the DEA is using legally operating licensed medical dispensaries for this purpose, a despicable act. They justify this with federal law, but fail to see that the 10th amendment insures states have the right to override federal law. Your government is raiding businesses that provide a health service to cancer patients steal their money. 
“This is the face of racism today. It isn’t the racist sheriff in Alabama turning hoses and dogs onto protesters, or the all-white development or country club, but the smooth lobbyist and campaign contributor discussing the efficiency of private prison initiatives or the politician too cowardly to act on decriminalizing marijuana for fear of antagonizing a powerful lobby,” says Dylan Ratigan. This eloquently displays how what is really preventing marijuana from being legal is the logging, textile, tobacco, and prison system lobbyists. The fact is, hemp, made from a cannabis relative plant, is by far the strongest natural fiber on the planet, and even beats many synthesized ones. If it were allowed in the US the industry would be shaken up, resulting in new leaders. The US Constitution is written on hemp. Hemp paper can last 20 times longer than wood paper, is more efficient, and can be recycled 4 times more. The logging industry feared this and lobbied in favor of cannabis prohibition because of this.
The drug war has cost over a trillion dollars only to create cartels. And they haven’t reduced drug use at all. The US is the #1 nation in the world in illegal drug use. The street price of cocaine has dropped by 80 percent since 1982 . As with the prohibition of alcohol, banning a substance doesn’t stop people from using it, it merely stops people from obeying the law. In Mexico alone, over 10,000 people a year are killed because of the militarization of the drug war. Thousands of people die out of fear of being prosecuted while overdosing. 
This is insanity. The only logical option is to decriminalize all drugs, legalize ones determined to be safe by science, and treat it as a public health issue. Continuing the drug war is continuing institutional racism and promoting slavery. By keeping laws as we are we’re assuming it’s normal for the majority of a country to break their own laws as a young adult. We’re no different from the propaganda that Orwell described to us in fiction when we say that alcohol is fine but every other drug isn’t. Why is it that we haven’t learned anything from alcohol 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.”
-H. L. Mencken, 1925
- “DEA / Drug Scheduling.” DEA / Drug Scheduling. US Department of Justice, n.d. Web. 22 May 2013.
- “Medical Cannabis.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 22 May 2013. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_cannabis>.
- “Deaths from Marijuana v. 17 FDA-Approved Drugs.” Oregon.gov. Oregon State, n.d. Web. 22 May 2013. <http://www.oregon.gov/pharmacy/Imports/Marijuana/Public/DeathsFromMarijuanaV17FDAdrugs.pdf>.
- Huff, Ethan A. “FDA Accused of Mass Homicide of One Million Americans Each Decade.”NaturalNews. Natural News Network, 22 May 2012. Web. 22 May 2013. <http://www.naturalnews.com/035936_FDA_homicide_victims.html>.
- “WHO: Alcohol Abuse Kills 2.5 Million People Each Year.” Voices Of America. N.p., 11 Feb. 2011. Web. 22 May 2013. <http://www.voanews.com/content/who-alcohol-abuse-kills-25-million-people-each-year-115951079/171375.html>.
- Gable, R. S. (2006). Acute toxicity of drugs versus regulatory status. In J. M. Fish (Ed.),Drugs and Society: U.S. Public Policy, pp.149-162, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Also published at Professor Gable’s faculty page.
- “Forty Years of Failure.” Drug Policy Alliance. Drug Policy Alliance, n.d. Web. 22 May 2013. <http://www.drugpolicy.org/new-solutions-drug-policy/forty-years-failure>.
- Ratigan, Dylan. “DYLAN RATIGAN: The War On Drugs Is Nothing But Institutionalized Racism.” Business Insider. N.p., 16 Jan. 2012. Web. 22 May 2013. <http://www.businessinsider.com/occupy-the-dream-the-mathematics-of-racism-2012-1>.
- “Crack vs. Powder Cocaine: Disproportionate Penalties – Discover the Networks.”Discover the Networks. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2013. <http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=1632>.
- Kain, Erik. “Ten Years After Decriminalization, Drug Abuse Down by Half in Portugal.”Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 05 July 2011. Web. 22 May 2013. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/07/05/ten-years-after-decriminalization-drug-abuse-down-by-half-in-portugal/>.
- Houston, Aaron. “America’s Longest War Has Shown Once Again Prohibition Doesn’t Work.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 9 July 2012. Web. 22 May 2013. <http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/is-it-time-to-scale-back-the-war-on-drugs/americas-longest-war-has-once-again-shown-that-prohibition-doesnt-work>.
- Branson, Richard. “War on Drugs a Trillion-dollar Failure.” CNN. Turner Broadcasting, 07 Dec. 2012. Web. 22 May 2013. <http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/06/opinion/branson-end-war-on-drugs>.