In middle school History, kids learn about Prohibition in the 20s and what an absolute failure it was. In the future, kids will learn how miserably drug prohibition failed. Unfortunately, we’re stuck in the present, and the War on Drugs rages on.
There are three criteria that determine whether a law is beneficial. The first criterion is whether the law achieves its stated purpose. Drug laws are intended to deter people from using drugs, at which they clearly fail. Drugs are ubiquitous in our society and everyone knows is. There are social events, such as Phish concerts, raves, and any party in Hollywood, where you will not fit in if you are not on drugs. Planetariums hold laser shows where they play Pink Floyd music. Burning Man is allowed to happen. There are profitable companies whose main product is glow sticks.
In the 1980’s, drug dealers engaged in urban guerilla warfare over lucrative drug markets. Today, drug violence is down, and the DEA has the gall to take credit, as if their vigilant enforcement scared the drug lords straight. Drug violence has declined because drug prices have plummeted. Drug prices have plummeted because so much gets into the country that there is no longer a shortage in supply. In the 80s, dealers would kill the competition and reap the profit of their customers and territory. That does not work today because every user has five dealers on speed dial, and the hitmen cannot kill them fast enough, so they give up and try to make it as rappers. The War on Drugs has reached a relative peace because we lost. Those brave insurgents in law enforcement refuse to surrender, though. It’s a bit admirable, but far more tragic.
The second criterion of a law is whether it has any harmful externalities. Consider that the War on Drugs has caused America to possess the world’s highest incarceration rate. That includes war-torn African nations with prison camps. That includes China, where it’s illegal to look at Tiananmen Square’s Wikipedia entry. That includes Singapore, where they beat citizens across the back with a bamboo cane for whistling in public. And then people wonder why so many inner-city youth grow up with a criminal mentality. When a large number of your role models and peers are labeled criminals by society, you’re going to experience an inclination to become a criminal.
On top of that, prohibiting drugs shifts one of the world’s largest industries into the black market. Columbia will never be stable when its richest, most influential citizens are drug kingpins. Warlords will always control Afghanistan when they are the sole purchaser of the only profitable crop that grows there. Just as prohibiting alcohol did, the War on Drugs creates a more organized and profitable class of criminals capable of greater mayhem. It’s only a matter of time before the next Kennedy family is spawned from this mess.
The last criterion of a law’s merit is whether the law persecutes a minority within the population. In their defense, the drug laws do not do this. Surveys show that over fifty percent of Americans have used drugs, so the drug laws actually persecute the majority of American citizens. Any law that punishes the lifestyle choices of most Americans does not reflect the will of the people. Most of us do not have a problem with other people using drugs. In fact, the last three presidents we elected all admitted to using illegal drugs. Still, because this majority is too spineless to stand up for its beliefs, it allows America to waste billions and imprison millions as it continues to wage the destructive and absolutely unwinnable War on Drugs.
A better way of dealing with drug abuse is in our sight. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. If you tie up and shoot heroin in the middle of the street there, all you get is a traffic ticket. Not only have they saved themselves money on enforcement and sent fewer citizens to prison, but they actually cause drug use to decline. By taking away penalties for drug users, they have been able to encourage more users to admit that they have a problem and voluntarily enter rehab. Use has not skyrocketed, because unlike the conservative pundits who insist that drug laws are the only buffer that prevent a nation overrun by addicts, the vast majority of people have some common sense. If crack was made legal tomorrow, most Americans would not go out and try crack. They know that crack is very harmful, and abstain from using it because they care about their bodies, not because the government tells them not to.
There is no rational evidence that the War on Drugs is succeeding or that it benefits our nation. People are afraid to stand up and say this because opponents will label them a drug addict or a sympathizer with drug addicts. This is insane. People who never drink can tell that Prohibition was a terrible policy that harmed our society. It is time to employ some common sense and end the travesty that is the War on Drugs.