Here’s a shocker! The War on Drugs is failing!

At least, according to the AP it is.

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.

“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

You would think we would have learned from the disaster that was Prohibition, but I guess not. Of course, the bureaucrats who have been the only real winners have to defend their empire building.

His predecessor, John P. Walters, takes issue with that.

Walters insists society would be far worse today if there had been no War on Drugs. Drug abuse peaked nationally in 1979 and, despite fluctuations, remains below those levels, he says. Judging the drug war is complicated: Records indicate marijuana and prescription drug abuse are climbing, while cocaine use is way down. Seizures are up, but so is availability.

“To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven’t made any difference is ridiculous,” Walters said. “It destroys everything we’ve done. It’s saying all the people involved in law enforcment, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It’s saying all these people’s work is misguided.”

Well, I will say it – the people on the law enforcement end have been wasting their time in the war on drugs. The work of people in drug enforcement is misguided.

Banning things doesn’t work. We have ample evidence from the days of Prohibition (which boosted the mafias from being essentially local gangs to being national crime syndicates), from gun bans in countries like Afghanistan (where they will build guns from scrap if they can’t get them on the black market) and Mexico (where the drug gangs have branched out into gun running)  and cities like Chicago, and even from the current War on Drugs – not just in the US, either, but in Mexico and elsewhere.

An important fact that seems to get routinely forgotten by both lawmakers and the public is that laws prevent nothing. Laws can only punish people for the prohibited behaviour after the fact. Passing a law banning the manufacture or possession of an item does nothing to physically prevent anyone from manufacturing or possessing that thing, it can only punish them for it after they are caught.

That’s not to say that laws don’t have any effect. They can influence the behaviour of people who are normally law abiding. There are likely many people who don’t do drugs because they are banned, without putting any more thought into it. That’s fine. But passing such laws in order to influence behaviour is something that must be done carefully, and rarely (if at all). Too many such laws, or laws banning something that is popular or seen as harmless, create resentment against the government. Many who are otherwise law-abiding will ignore such laws because they see them as annoyances, or ridiculous.

Another problem is that laws against things create an instant black market. It’s a problem that is summed up nicely by something I read in a book (I think it was Jhereg by Steven Brust, but I’m not sure): “Every time they pass a new law, they create a new business.” Think about that. Every time the government bans something, they create a new market in banned goods for anyone willing to take the risk of supplying that item. The black market has been around, in one form or another, for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. This means that there is an existing base of people willing and able to manufacture and sell items that have been banned. These people will not be influenced by more laws as long as there is a market for things that have been banned. This is why Prohibition didn’t work, it’s why gun bans don’t work, and it’s why the War on Drugs is failing miserably.

So, the question that must now be asked is this: Is the failing War on Drugs worth the billions of dollars that are being thrown at it every year? Is it worth the lives ruined or even lost every year? Is it worth the growing militarization of the police? Is it worth the growing number of violent no-knock raids over misdemeanor amounts of marijuana (warning: links to graphic content)? Is it worth having the police shoot children’s pets in front of them and then holding those children at gun point?

It’s time to end the failure that is the War on Drugs. Drug use and abuse is not a problem that is subject to a law enforcement solution, it can only be significantly reduced by education – a solution that appears to have reached the limit of it’s effectiveness.

Unfortunately, we can expect the bureaucrats to defend to their last breath the empire they’ve spent the last 40 years building up.

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