Stop the drug war

Michael Doyle

For almost 40 years, this nation’s drug policy has focused on attacking the supply of drugs in hopes that this would protect the public by making drugs costly and scarce. Unfortunately, this policy has had the opposite effect.

Every police bust reduces the drug supply, but this in turn raises the price, which increases the rewards for selling drugs and offers further incentives to sellers to push drugs on the very people we most want to protect: children, teenagers and troubled adults.

These black-market mechanisms, which push addictive substances on our society’s most vulnerable, did not exist prior to drug criminalization. It formed only after criminalization, and the drug war drove up profit margins to the point where pushing drugs became good business practice.

Historically, criminalization isn’t effective at decreasing usage. There were more speakeasies in the U.S. during prohibition than there were bars before prohibition. Additionally, heroin use in the U.K. actually increased after it was made illegal in the 1950s.

Now, there are 530,000 people behind bars for drug offenses. That is enough people for the United States to man a second Navy. That’s half a million people who aren’t paying taxes and are costing us $20,000 per prisoner per year to incarcerate.

Indeed, the state of California has been ordered to release thousands of its prisoners due to overcrowding. The state may have to release sex offenders and violent criminals in order to accommodate non-violent drug offenders.

True, drugs cause crime. It is not the drugs themselves that induce crime, but the soaring black-market profits caused by our drug war. Sadly, our drug war doesn’t stop at our borders.

The drug war has led to the U.S. deploying military forces throughout Latin America and was the impetus for the invasion of Panama in 1989. The revenue generated by the drug trade has fueled a 40-year civil war in Colombia. It has sown havoc throughout Latin America, as drug cartels bribe government officials, execute judges and wage wars in the streets, jungles and deserts of every country from Canada to Chile.

This situation is only getting worse. Violence has become so bad in Mexico that the U.S. military has recently stated the government is at risk of collapse.

The situation isn’t any better in the Eastern Hemisphere. The Taliban and al-Qaida are widely known to be using the inflated revenue caused by drug prohibition to fund their operations, kill our troops and victimize the Afghan people.

In a perverse irony, our government’s policies have created and are now maintaining the very lifeline that sustains and empowers our most mortal enemy – an enemy who has been a plague on every people it has ever had contact with, an enemy who is responsible for the murder of our citizens, an enemy who is even now planning the deaths of our troops.

We endure all this, and for what? What benefit is there to a policy that cost billions of dollars and sustains gangsters, terrorists and criminals around the globe? Should we bear all this in the name of protecting people from hurting themselves?

True, drugs are bad, but the world is full of actual victims needing help. We cannot afford to squander our resources on people intent on victimizing themselves.

Michael Doyle is a senior economics major and guest columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.