By Paul Armentano
Just days after the White House released their inherently flawed 2010 National Drug Control Strategy (Read NORML’s refutation of it on The Huffington Post here and here.), and mere hours after Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske told reporters at the National Press Club, “I have read thoroughly the ballot proposition in California; I think I once got an e-mail that told me I won the Irish sweepstakes and that actually had more truth in it than the ballot proposition,” the Associated Press takes the entire U.S. drug war strategy and rakes it over the coals.
It’s about damn time!
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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.
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“Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”
Seriously, if you care at all about drug policy and marijuana law reform, you really must read the entire AP analysis. It’s that good.
In 1970, hippies were smoking pot and dropping acid. Soldiers were coming home from Vietnam hooked on heroin. Embattled President Richard M. Nixon seized on a new war he thought he could win.
“This nation faces a major crisis in terms of the increasing use of drugs, particularly among our young people,” Nixon said as he signed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. The following year, he said: “Public enemy No. 1 in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.”
His first drug-fighting budget was $100 million. Now it’s $15.1 billion, 31 times Nixon’s amount even when adjusted for inflation.
Using Freedom of Information Act requests, archival records, federal budgets and dozens of interviews with leaders and analysts, the AP tracked where that money went, and found that the United States repeatedly increased budgets for programs that did little to stop the flow of drugs. In 40 years, taxpayers spent more than:
— $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico — and the violence along with it.
— $33 billion in marketing “Just Say No”-style messages to America’s youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have “risen steadily” since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.
— $49 billion for law enforcement along America’s borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.
— $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.
— $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.
At the same time, drug abuse is costing the nation in other ways. The Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse — “an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction” — cost the United States $215 billion a year.
Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron says the only sure thing taxpayers get for more spending on police and soldiers is more homicides.
“Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use,” Miron said, “but it’s costing the public a fortune.”
The so-called ‘war’ on some drugs — which is really a war on consumers of certain temporarily mood-altering substances, mainly marijuana, can not survive if continually faced with this kind of scrutiny. Even the Drug Czar — when faced with the actual evidence and data above — folds his cards immediately, acknowledging that U.S. criminal drug enforcement “has not been successful.” Yet apparently neither he, nor the majority of Congress, the President, the bulk of law enforcement officials, or any of the tens of thousands of bureaucrats in Washington, DC have the stones to stand up and put a stop to it.
And that is — and always has been — the problem.
And so the drums of war beat on, and the casualties mount.
Isn’t it about time that we all said: “Enough is enough?“