Wednesday, February 13, 2013



The War on Drugs is Immoral and Ineffective

By Brian Woodward

The War On Drugs

Despite increased efforts, manpower, and resources, the war on drugs has been a resounding failure. W.C. fields once quipped, “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.” Not only does the government continue to fail in its crusade against drugs, it continues to perpetrate a policy of immense immorality. It has been over forty years since President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs. What do we have to show for it? The United States has wasted over one trillion dollars, caused incarceration rates to exceed that of the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin, discriminated heavily against African-Americans, propped up the drug cartels, and allowed drug profits to flow into the pockets of al-Qaeda and other such terrorist groups.

The biggest success in the war on drugs has been the protection of drug cartel’s profits. In a standard legalized business, there are countless importers and exporters of a particular good. However, due to drug raids and seizures, the price of maintaining an operation has been driven up, forcing out small time distributors. This allows the only viable distributors to be those with enough money and resources to avoid interdiction efforts. These are the highly violent drug cartels that are flush with cash. By keeping goods out and arresting local distributors, the government keeps the price of these drugs up. What else could a monopolist want?

The production of drugs can be a very inexpensive endeavor when it is not necessary to take immense precautions to avoid interdiction. Thomas Sowell, the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, asserts that “if a user could support his habit for a few dollars a week, he would still be an addict, but would not have to steal, mug, or murder to support his habit.” Zealots are unable to realize that they are not God. They possess neither the license nor the capacity to dictate how others live.

Drug enforcement agencies like to dazzle the public with their alleged high rates of drug seizures. American law enforcement confiscated approximately 1.5 million kilograms of marijuana in 2007, up 30% from 2002. Their efforts were even better with cocaine. They seized 50% more in 2007 than in 2002, a colossal 150,000 kilograms of cocaine. However, a 2011 study published in the Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies indicates that “despite these outstanding numbers, only an estimated 41.5% of all cocaine and 25% of all marijuana was intercepted globally in 2007. Consequently, interdiction efforts have failed to effectively dismantle the drug industry. Experts believe that seventy percent of a drug needs to be intercepted worldwide to substantially reduce the size of the industry.” In addition, the percentage of drugs intercepted is likely inflated due to the inability to account for the amount of drugs that are smuggled in undetected.

Experts indicate that in order to make an appreciable difference, confiscation would have to be doubled. Furthermore, interdiction spurs what experts refer to as a “balloon effect”. This posits that when confiscation efforts are expanded in a certain area, the producers simply change locations. When interception efforts increase in one region, production merely moves to another region, which, as a result, makes seizure operations ineffective.

The Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies study goes on to state, “Another fundamental problem of interdiction is that it actually increases the profits of, and therefore the violence within, the industry.” The working theory of enforcement agencies is that reducing the supply of drugs will force costs up and push usage down. This is naive and misguided. The reality is that the drug supply is generally inelastic, meaning that due to the addictive nature of drugs, demand is not increased or decreased significantly when price fluctuates.

While drug cartels enjoy their monopoly and continue to rake in huge profits, the casual drug user, in particular the African-American user, increasingly finds himself behind bars. Drug convictions increased from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996. Over half of the federal inmates are doing time due to drug offenses. In 2009, 1.66 million Americans were taken into custody for narcotics violations, more than were charged with assault or larceny combined. Eighty percent of those charges were simply for possession. In 2007, States spent in excess of $6.2 billion to incarcerate inmates with drug charges, a total of nearly $17 million a day.

According to the international organization Human Rights Watch, over 25.4 million Americans have been detained for drug offenses since 1980; almost one third of those arrested were African-Americans. Furthermore, although African-American men comprise only 12 percent of the U.S. population, they represent 62 percent of drug offenders sent to state prisons. Black men are sentenced to state penitentiaries for drug-related crimes at an astonishing 13 times the rate of Caucasian men. The discrepancies are preposterously amplified in individual states where black men are sentenced to federal incarceration on drug offenses 57 times the rate of white men.

This is blatant racial discrimination of which our government should be ashamed. The United States imprisons people at the highest rate in the world. America contains only five percent of the world’s population, yet holds almost one-fourth of the earth’s inmates. It is despicable to ruin people’s lives for victimless crimes. If the government can punish people for personal behavior because they claim it “will do harm to oneself”, than what is to stop them from mandating other types of personal behavior. Where does it stop? In the future, will we be jailed for overeating? After all, that leads to obesity, which leads to heart disease, which kills many more people than drugs.

The most prudent strategy to impact the world market is to legalize drugs. Prohibition created the black market and increased interdiction efforts only bolster cartel profits. The Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies study asserts that prohibition “attracts criminals, incentives violence, and makes the drug trade one of the most profitable industries in the world. Universal legalization would reverse these trends. It would take the profits out of the industry and put a stop to violent trafficking, possibly ending the drug trade as we know it.”

From 1776 to 1914, drugs were mostly legal on a federal and local level. What was so wrong with that period of time? Alcohol prohibition clearly failed, creating a black market for alcohol, resulting in organized crime fueled by the likes of Al Capone. Drug prohibition in the United States has created the monsters known as drug cartels, yet we continue down the same path of failure acting as doltish as ever.

If drugs are legalized, demand is likely to increase because the cost to the consumer is lower.
However, according to analysis put forth by the American Journal of Economics & Sociology in a 2000 article titled “Legalize Drugs Now”, the increase is expected to be minimal. Whether a drug is legal or not plays a small role in whether individuals decide to consume them. The study asserts that it expects an initial spike in use immediately after legalization. However, as with alcohol prohibition, this effect will wane with time. The study shows that “the average per ca pita consumption of alcohol has fallen to its lowest level ever. The legalization of alcohol reversed the potency effect. The legalization of drugs will do the same.”

Furthermore, the illegal drug trade is interlinked with other organized crime markets, such as human trafficking, sale of illegal weapons, and terrorism. Often, the immense profits of the drug trade act as a catalyst to fund criminal enterprises that acquire military grade arms, which are used to equip and train terrorists. It is highly likely that the enormous blow that legalization will have on the annual $500 billion dollar profits of the drug trade will result in a trickle-down effect. This will cause the other criminal markets to suffer and may well result in crippling terrorist organizations.

A 2011 report titled the “Global Commission on Drug Policy” was formulated by, among others, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State George Shultz, former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo, and former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Below are some of their recommendations and conclusions:

"The global war on drugs has failed ... Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption." 

 “Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers.”

“End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.”

“Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.”

The war on drugs is immoral and ineffective. The meta-analysis of researchers and scholars leave us with one conclusion: legalization is the only viable solution.


Academic Journals:

“Drug legalization, harm reduction, and drug policy” Annals of Internal Medicine, September 1995

“International Drug Trafficking: A Global Problem with a Domestic Solution” Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies, Summer 2011

“Prohibition vs. legalization: Do economists reach a conclusion on drug policy?” Econ Journal Watch, April 2004

“The public and the war on illicit drugs” Journal of the American Medical Association, March 1998

“Legalize Drugs Now!” American Journal of Economics & Sociology, July 2000

“War on Black Men: Arguments for the Legalization of Drugs” Criminal Justice Ethics, August 2012

Other Sources

“Decades of Disparity: Drug Arrests and Race in the United States” Human Rights Watch, 2009

“Incarceration Nation” Time Magazine, April 2012

Legalize drugs - all of them” New Internationalist Magazine, September 2012

“U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations” New York Times, April 2008


Anonymous said...

The racial discrimination against African-Americans related to drug charges is appalling.

Randy Parks said...

For a relatively obscure website at least in the coverage of political issues this article is absolutely riveting. The research and analysis is impeccable. I would not be surprised to see this find its way around the web.