The War on Drugs is one of the most widely recognized failures of government policy on Earth, even though many American politicians and lawmakers seem to be terrified of the political fallout of being the first to admit that fact.
Policies that outline the harsh punishment of non-violent drug offenders, particularly for possession of a small amount of narcotics, have resulted in the exact opposite of the expected outcome. Illegal drugs have never been cheaper, more available and widely used by the general public.
In the meantime, criminal enterprises reap immense profits from narcotic crops sown, overshadowing legitimate business and economic activities in countries such as Colombia and Afghanistan, where products such as cocaine and heroin originate. Crime bosses around the world bathe in showers of the Benjamins unpunished, while local, low-level and low-income drug slingers suffer the harsh consequences despite the smaller stature of their crimes.
The recent movement to decriminalize cannabis, in particular for medicinal use, represents an encouraging signal not only from politicians but from the citizens who elect them to power. States that have went ahead and followed the recommendations of scientific and social studies have enjoyed pleasant surprises as a reward for their vision, including greater tourism, tax revenues and public health, even experiencing record numbers of applications to post-secondary institutions within borders that have legalized cannabis.
15. Police Seize Billions From Innocents to Fund Drug War
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice reported $4.2 billion of income due to civil forfeiture, a legal process that allows police departments to seize funds, real estate, vehicles and anything else deemed of value without filing criminal charges.
These incidents usually begin with being pulled over by local police, who then proceed to find reasonable cause to conduct a search. Those traveling in vehicles with large amounts of cash, guns or anything that hints at narcotics use end up accused of drug crimes.
A district attorney then offers the accused a choice: face charges of money laundering and drug crimes, which will be dropped immediately if the accused forfeits their cash and possessions to the local county.
This form of police harassment was enabled by policies designed to reduce the costs of fighting the Drug War by shifting the brunt of the burden onto criminal offenders. Instead, innocents become ensnared in this form of legal extortion, with a disproportionate number of victims consisting of black or Latino citizens.
14. The Trillion Dollar War
Ever since former U.S. President Richard Milhous Nixon announced the war on drugs in 1971, the United States government has spent over a trillion dollars on the endeavor, which amounts to roughly $25 billion per year or $793 per second for over 40 years. These funds would have been enough for the U.S. government to settle a small colony on Mars.
Recent estimates of government spending on the Drug War suggests a recent budget of about $51 billion per year to combat the flow of illegal narcotics into the United States. Considering the challenges that the U.S. faces in maintaining public infrastructure, education and healthcare, diverting billions of Drug War dollars to support crucial pillars of society would increase the overall well-being of the nation.
13. Militarization of Police Forces
In 1972, the year after ex-U.S. President Nixon gave the go-ahead to start the Drug War, police forces within the United States executed a few hundred paramilitary-style raids on potentially dangerous drug dens. The 1980s saw that number rise to about 3,000 military-style raids; in 2001, more than 40,000 raids were conducted per year. Incredibly, in just over a decade, the number of raids has increased to approximately 80,000 per year.
In addition to government funding and civil forfeiture providing the capital necessary to outfit police with armament typically reserved for the military, the U.S. features a program that feeds local police departments “repurposed” firearms, vehicles and other equipment no longer used by the United States Armed Forces, like Humvees that serve and protect schoolyards.
12. Costs of Enforcement Rise – Price of Illegal Drugs Plummet
The price of imprisoning a low-level drug dealer for three years is upwards of $100,000, which is a lot of public money to spend for busting people for small crimes. Average pay for these entry-level dealers has plummeted from $30 an hour to less than minimum wage in the past few years, according to policy analysts.
During the past 30 years, prices for heroin and cocaine have dropped between 80 and 90 percent. When smuggled into nations such as the United States, the value of cocaine averages $3,000 per ounce, despite the fact that it costs about $30 per ounce in countries that produce the illicit narcotic.
The difference between prison costs and drug profits shows that the War on Drugs creates profit for higher-ups in criminal organizations while governments pay to jail those involved in low level drug trades.
11. Treatment Far More Effective than Enforcement
A survey of drug court and treatment programs as an alternative to prison time for minor offenders followed the cases of 226,000 individuals across 372 drug courts. Over 67 percent of the offenders stayed in the system and 74,000 out of 77,000 participating in treatment graduated the process.
These drugs courts saved an average of $697,652 in costs during the year-long study, with an average reduction in sentencing worth more than 28 years of incarceration.
Compared to those doing time in prison for small drug offenses, people diverted to drug courts and treatment have lower rates of recidivism after one year while avoiding a criminal record that would needlessly damage employment prospects in the long term.
10. Drug War Created the Largest Prison Population on Earth
Despite studies that prove the effectiveness of treatment instead of incarceration, the United States has the largest amount of prisoners in the world. Incredibly, 25% of the world’s prison population is jailed in the United States despite the fact that the U.S. population amounts to only 5% of the entire world. At least half of the entire prison population, including plenty with no previous criminal record, spend time in the slammer for drug crimes.
During 2012, statistics show that 1.5 million Americans were arrested for non-violent drug crime, which equals an arrest every 21 seconds, amounting to 4,114 arrests per day all year long.
9. Public Revenue Lost
Following the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, 2014 sales of medical marijuana totalled $386 million while $313 million worth of cannabis was sold for recreational purposes.
The state of Colorado raked in $63 million in tax revenue from these sales along with $13 million worth of fees and licensing charges. State projections estimate that tax revenue will rise to $94 million in 2016, which would likely be derived from a billion in overall sales.
Instead of criminal organizations reaping the benefits of cannabis sales, legitimate, tax-paying businesses run by law abiding citizens enrich government coffers and local businesses. Estimates suggest the United States federal government would raise around $46.7 billion if they followed in the footsteps of Colorado.
8. The War Against (Some) Drugs
As billions are squandered annually fighting the War on Drugs, legal narcotics as deadly as the worst illicit narcotic have caused an epidemic of health problems across the United States.
According to statistics, in the United States alone, seven million people abuse prescription drugs such as pain killers, stimulants, sedatives and tranquilizers, among other powerful medications. Over 475,000 visits to emergency wards were caused by prescription medication abuse. Nearly four people every minute begin abusing prescription drugs, amounting to 5,500 new drug abusers per day.
The staggering number of people suffering from prescription drug problems in the United States point to a lack of success in treating all forms of narcotic addiction, whether the substance abused is considered legal or not.
7. Drug War Helps the Spread of HIV/AIDS
Outside the borders of sub-Saharan Africa, at least one in three cases of all HIV infections take place because of shared needles. This ratio holds true in the United States, where 354,000 people have contracted AIDS from needle-sharing.
The rhetoric of enforcement over treatment that drives the War on Drugs prevents the establishment of public health programs that help reduce disease among the addicted. A study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered that access to sterile syringe programs reduced the incidence of HIV among those who inject narcotics by at least 80%. Worldwide tracking of HIV/AIDS in 99 big cities revealed that cities providing access to clean needles experience an 18% reduction in HIV cases while cities without clean needle programs suffer an 8% increase of HIV/AIDS per year.
As well as improved public health, similar to most disease, the cost to prevent infection pales in comparison to the price of treating HIV/AIDS. In 2008, data from New York City showed that treatment for an AIDS patient averages $34,000 per year while an individual enrolled in a clean needle program cost the city $500 per year.
6. Spreading Violence Around the World
Similar to the war on terrorism, the War on Drugs has been fought on almost every continent and has no concrete goal other than the complete eradication of all narcotics considered illicit, which is an impossible task.
Similar to prohibition in the U.S. during the early 20th century, the War on Drugs has resulted in criminal organizations battling to claim a slice of the immense profits enabled by making drugs illegal, initiating drug-related violence that kills tens of thousands of people every year.
Although few nations haven’t been impacted by drug-related violence, the Drug War in Mexico is a notable example of the worst brutality against civilians. In 2010, the number of deaths due to drug-related killings spiked to nearly twelve thousand in a single year, almost doubling the fatalities of the prior year.
5. Few Victors in The War on Drugs
After all the effort and money spent on fighting the War on Drugs, after all the lives lost and ruined in pursuit of enforcing policy, drug producers and middlemen still make a killing through the production and distribution of illegal narcotics throughout the world.
Responsible for 43% of the world’s coca, the drug trade in Columbia is valued at about $10 billion per year, which amounts to one-fourth of the nation’s legal exports. Drug production and distribution in Afghanistan has also reached the $10 billion mark, representing a staggering 30% of its entire economy.
Fighting the War on Drugs has ballooned Columbia’s defense budget to $12 billion, which is triple the average spent by its South American neighbors on security.
Ordinary citizens, addicts, low-level drug dealers, law enforcement and other government organizations have all experienced significant losses because of the War on Drugs. The only group of people who come out ahead are leaders of various crime syndicates, who have become enriched by unprecedented profits created by the inflated prices of their products.
4. Targeting Racial Minorities
According to statistics cited by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, ten times the number of African Americans receive jail time for drugs compared to white Americans, despite the fact that white drug users number five times more than African American drug users.
Numerous statistics shine light on the targeting of racial minorities by police forces fighting the War on Drugs, but a written conclusion published in the American Journal of Public Health summed up the true extent of the problem:
“Although serious drug use is slightly more prevalent in poor minority neighborhoods than elsewhere, the major problem for disadvantaged neighborhoods is drug distribution. These communities are victims not only of their own drug abuse but also of a criminal drug market that serves the entire society. The market establishes itself in disadvantaged communities in part because of the low social capital in these neighborhoods. The drug economy further erodes that social capital.”
In other words, the current policies of the War on Drugs not only lead to racially disproportionate enforcement, but end up segregating drug business into poor neighborhoods that feature a majority of visual minorities. This creates an even greater disadvantage for poor minority communities, who end up living in destinations that serve as illegal drug depots for American drug users.
3. War on Drugs Fuels U.S.-Mexico Arms Trade
In 2008, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives traced 12,073 firearms seized by authorities fighting the War on Drugs in Mexico.
This represented a shocking increase in the cross-border weapons trade between the United States and Mexico; the amount of Mexican-owned firearms originating from the United States in 2008 was more than the previous three years combined, raising the number of American firearms found in Mexico to 22,848 since the U.S. ATF started keeping track in 2005.
The ATF traces guns, but they’re unable to track cross-border bullet sales, which represent a booming business in places like the town of Laredo, Texas. Cartels utilize lax bullet regulations to easily obtain countless rounds of ammo in their fight for supremacy.
2. The Nation that Started the War Uses Illicit Drugs the Most
Perhaps the most ironic fact about the War on Drugs, U.S. government policies have failed to prevent the formation of the largest group of drug users on the planet.
Despite tough, anti-drug laws, 42.4 percent of Americans have used cannabis and 16% of Americans have done cocaine. The next closest group was New Zealanders, 41.9% of whom have tried marijuana, 4% cocaine. Netherlands, a country with lax drug laws, reported 19.8% marijuana usage while 1.9% experimented with cocaine.
Americans even use legal drugs such as nicotine at an increased rate, with 74% of Americans having tried cigarettes. Lebanon was second at 67% while Mexico came in third for usage at 60%.
The World Health Organization noted in this study that “the use of drugs seems to be a feature of more affluent countries. The U.S., which has been driving much of the world’s drug research and drug policy agenda, stands out with higher levels of use of alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis, despite punitive illegal drug policies.”
1. Repeating the Failure of Prohibition
Nearly a century ago, the United States passed the Volstead Act, which criminalized the possession and consumption of alcohol throughout the United States. Prohibition empowered the notorious rise of post-war criminal organizations that dominated cities with violence and corruption, without curbing the use of alcohol among the general public.
Despite the vivid history of prohibition in America, U.S. lawmakers, guided by politicians, repeat the same mistakes made almost a century ago, replicating the same conditions that empower criminal organizations.
Unlike a century ago, the War on Drugs, initiated by President Nixon, has spread far beyond the borders of the United States, causing violence, suffering and inequality around the world.
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