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The war on 'the war on drugs' [The conversation]

Drug Use Is Life Abuse With the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon's "War on Drugs" Friday, many people seem to agree that the battle against “America’s public enemy No. 1” has failed. 

After the Global Commission on Drug Policy released its June report, the Office of National Drug Control Policy released statistics that reflected decreasing use of illicit drugs in the U.S.

But the 19-member Global Commission said current drug policy isn't working and recommends that governments "end the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others." The group also encourages governments to experiment with drug legalization to undermine organized crime, expand treatment programs, educate youth to discourage drug use and focus on reducing violence from crime organizations that harm individuals.

Other commentators seem to share similar feelings about the War on Drugs:

Statistics don’t show the human element 

The Obama administration presented a collection of statistics that compared current drug use and demand with the peak of the late 1970s, although a direct correlation between those declines and the drug war are highly debatable. In doing so, it completely sidestepped the human, economic and societal toll of the mass incarceration of millions of Americans, many for simple possession.

No need to put a human face on 40 years of folly when you can swaddle its inefficacy in a patchwork quilt of self-serving statistics.

-- Charles M. Blow, New York Times Op-Ed columnist

The punitive approach to stopping drug use doesn't work

But [the Global Commission on Drug Policy] probably won’t turn to the United States for advice. Drug policies here are more punitive and counterproductive than in other democracies, and have brought about an explosion in prison populations. At the end of 1980, just before I left office, 500,000 people were incarcerated in America; at the end of 2009 the number was nearly 2.3 million. There are 743 people in prison for every 100,000 Americans, a higher portion than in any other country and seven times as great as in Europe. Some 7.2 million people are either in prison or on probation or parole — more than 3% of all American adults!

--Former President Jimmy Carter 

After 40 years, it’s time to try something else

We do not support the simple legalization of all drugs. What we do advocate is an open and honest debate on the subject. We want to find our way to a less costly and more effective method of discouraging drug use, cutting down the power of organized crime, providing better treatment and minimizing negative societal effects.

-- George Shultz, former U.S. secretary of State and Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

Prison doesn’t help and isn’t a rational solution

There is nothing rational about such drug policies. In no other area of criminal law do we lock up huge numbers of people because they might pose threats to themselves, but have done nothing to harm another person. [...]

But even if you think that drugs should be illegal, it’s hard to justify prison sentences for possession or nonviolent drug crimes. Imprisoning people for drug offenses basically destroys their lives -- even if they’re lucky enough to exit prison. Prison neither treats nor trains nor rehabilitates. Instead, prison makes people more likely to commit crimes in the future and makes them effectively unemployable with little hope of a future. Evidence indisputably shows that treatment is far more cost-effective than incarceration for drug offenses, rehabilitating individuals so they can be productive members of society.

--Inimai M. Chettiar, Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union

Libertarians think it encroaches on individual freedoms

Nick Gillespie characterized it as a “war on some drugs.”  “Libertarians think it's destructive ... and does huge damage to the idea that we are free and autonomous individuals. ... Individuals have a right to screw their lives up or to enjoy themselves in the ways they see fit.”

“There isn’t a single sane person in this country who thinks that the drug war makes sense or that we’re winning it, so there is a solution to be had there but that solution is going to come at the expense of politics, because politics produced this god-awful mess,” Matt Welch said.

-- Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, Reason Magazine

The Drug War is detrimental to minority communities

Although whites are relatively untouched by anti-drug efforts compared to blacks, supporters of the drug war may not see a problem of race discrimination because they do not believe the purpose of drug law enforcement is to harm blacks -- if anything, drug law enforcement is seen as protecting minority communities from addiction, harassment, and violence. Perhaps without realizing it, they have accepted the same definition of discrimination that the courts use in constitutional equal protection cases -- absent ill intent, there is no discrimination.

-- Jamie Fellner, 2009, Senior Counsel for the U.S Program of Human Rights Watch


Marijuana profiling

Who is winning the drug war's publicity battle?

The conversation: Campaign to legalize marijuana

-- Samantha Schaefer

Photo credit:  Los Angeles Times


Comments () | Archives (9)

The comments to this entry are closed.


How many Americans does alcohol kill? How many does cannabis kill? Why are alcohol supremacists refusing to answer such basic questions?


While there is legitimate debate on the number of people in the US murdered in the war on drugs, 150K is a low estimate and 250K is a high but plausible estimate. The only wars with more US deaths are the war(s) against the Native Americans, the other "Civil" war, and WW2.


Prohibition didn't work the first time, with alcohol, and it isn't working now with pot...

War LOST...

Legalize pot,...


Prohibition didn't work the first time, with alcohol, and it isn't working now with pot...

War LOST...

Legalize pot,...


The problem isn’t that people use drugs, it’s that they want to, or need to use them. Our society’s strong escapism element manifests itself in drug use. America’s approach to our citizens use of drugs has been ridiculous, ineffective, counterproductive, and extremely injurious to our society.

An analogy exemplifying America’s drug policy might be a kid with mental illness being beaten by his father every time the disease manifested itself. The beating does absolutely nothing to correct or even ameliorate the disease, it alienates the child from the parent, and this approach allows the child’s condition to flourish.

The government’s position on drugs, except for their own personal favorites, alcohol and tobacco, has been to mete out harsh punishment for offenders, to track down those who deal in these substances and incarcerate them.

The result of this policy is to drive the cost of the drugs up, make it more tempting for a user to bop grandma over the head to obtain the funds to get his fix, to put more money into the pockets of the very ones who the government is determined to eliminate.

Most deaths and injuries concerning drugs are a consequence of our government’s drug policy. Overdoses, many caused by the inconsistent quality and potency of the illegal drugs, and battles over drug turfs would be eliminated if government took the money out of the business by legalizing it.


I think the war on drugs has been more about passing out money then addressing the problems correctly. The flow of drugs has not diminished in fact it has increased. Also many kids and adults are over crowding our prison systems (at our expense) and becoming hardened criminals or facing abuse inside. If you are going to allow society to be addicted to prescription drugs and alcohol then I think you might as well make some of these things legal again. Also these prisons and their states are running some of these people through medicare and medicaid just to relief the stress of overcrowding which overburdens those systems as well. There still should be an addressing of the largest dealers and organized crime but for individuals, you cannot dictate effectively whether or not they indulge. Add to that the fact that you can tax the heck out of it and regulate it through the fda and that sort of thing. I just feel like you are going about it all wrong and to not have even changed the way you address it in 40 years tells me it is about something else entirely. Lets use common sense and get it right for a change. People getting high are still getting high and you are still getting 15 to 25 billion dollars of our budget a year for no results and overburdening the various systems associated with it.


Because of the "free" market, e.g. the tobacco (Which is my real concern. Why has nobody called them out? Cigarettes kill hundreds of thousands, cause health problems, etc, and marijuana is a much safer alternative that gives a much better high anyway) alcohol and lumber industries. The whole thing actually originated with the Jim Crow laws, because cannabis was seen as a largely "black" drug, hence, the illegalization of cannabis at a time when no real research into its effects had been made.

The whole thing is stupid, and the fact that we (as a majority) don't realize that Nixon was both idiotic and borderline insane by now is kind of sad to me. I can understand that people with a certain body chemistry are much more susceptible to harmful effects of marijuana, but education is more important than prevention. If a kid knows what they're doing, they might be more likely to do it, but they will be less likely to abuse it.


Saying that only the less harmful drugs, like marijuana, should be legal, because legalisation amounts to sanction misses the point. All drugs should be legal for two reasons. First, on a purely cost-benefit analysis, there is every reason to believe that legalisation would save money and lives, including through overdose. It would drastically reduce the influence of criminal organisations around the world, reduce the corruption of law enforcement and politicians, reduce harm done by unregulated black market substitutes for drugs whose harm has much to do with their illicit nature, and reduce the incidence of police destruction of property through break ins.

Second, no one has the right to tell you what you can and cannot put in your body when the consumption of that substance does not affect anyone else. Our bodies are our property, and no one can take away a free man’s property. Unless we are irresponsible children with no judgment, all drugs should be legal.

malcolm kyle

If you are a Prohibitionist then you owe us answers to the following questions:

#1. Why do you rejoice at the fact that we have all been stripped of our 4th amendment rights and are now totally subordinate to a corporatized, despotic government with a heavily armed and corrupt, militarized police force whose often deadly intrusions into our homes and lives are condoned by an equally corrupt and spineless judiciary?

#2. Why do you wish to continue to spend $50 billion a year to prosecute and cage your fellow citizens for choosing drugs which are not more dangerous than those of which you yourself use and approve of such as alcohol and tobacco?

#3. Do you honestly expect the rest of us to look on passively while you waste another trillion dollars on this ruinously expensive garbage policy?

#4. Why are your waging war on your own family, friends and neighbors?

#5. Why are you so complacent with the fact that our once 'free & proud' nation now has the largest percentage of it's citizenry incarcerated than any other on the entire planet?

#6. Why are you helping to fuel a budget crisis to the point of closing hospitals, schools and libraries?

#7. Why do you rejoice at wasting precious resources on prohibition related undercover work while rapists and murderers walk free, while additionally, many cases involving murder and rape do not even get taken to trial because law enforcement priorities are subverted by your beloved failed and dangerous policy?

#8. Why are you such a supporter of the 'prison industrial complex' to the extent of endangering our own children?



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