We passed the point long ago in recognizing that the terrible human costs of drug abuse were being dwarfed by the terrible human costs of the “War on Drugs”. The historical roots of the war on drugs in this country was rooted in racism (surprise, surprise) with many of the drugs banned by the Harrison Act being associated with certain “inferior races” such as Marijuana (African-Americans) and Opium (Asians). Since then there has been an obvious bias not only with regard to types of drugs regulated but with the laws enforcing the war. The point is that the “War on Drugs” was not rooted in a concern for health, it was in the fear of the “drug users”. There certainly is no argument with the fact that drug abuse is devastating to not only the abuser, but also on their families and communities as well. But then again, so are drug cartels and locking up massive numbers of drug users, most of whom are poor and minorities.
My argument with the “War on Drugs” is that it is ineffective, unfair and more destructive than what it purports to defeat. Social scientists agree that the only outcome of our 40 year old “war” has been to shift the choice of drugs being used by people. For example, instead of using marijuana people abuse a far more destructive drug: alcohol. A child born in 2013 is statistically as likely to try and use a mood-altering drug as any baby boomer.
The criminalization of drugs has been ineffective in preventing use and has caused more violence than what would result from legal drug use. On the other hand, the criminalization of drugs has resulted in the emergence of extremely violent cartels, the largest prison population in the world, and the diversion of trillions of dollars from programs of social uplift.
The criminalization of drugs has been unevenly applied and enforced. The vast majority of arrests for drug use or possession are among minorities and the poor. I made a joke recently about New York’s “Stop and Frisk” policy. The majority of people stopped were minorities and not guilty of any crime. The majority of people who were arrested were for possession of illegal drugs. I said you could throw a dart down Wall Street and hit a gram of cocaine. One wonders what the same effort directed at Wall Street would have yielded, but drug use by white men in $3000 suits are not the targets of the “war”.
Finally, the amount of money saved from ineffective drug policing would be more than enough to provide treatment for the minority of drug users who are vulnerable to abuse and addiction. The vast majority of drug users do not become addicted. Most drug users require no medical treatment and eventually move on to other diversions.