June 18, 2024

The Forgotten War

Libby Spencer at Newshoggers and Bob Barr have something in common: both realize that America’s War on Drugs is a waste of both resources and lives.  Libby brings up two facts that the feds don’t want us dwelling on:

deaths attributable to the abuse of legal pharmaceutical drugs are three times greater than illegal ones, but you don’t hear any huge calls to ban those drugs.

marijuana remains the only so-called dangerous drug which has not been attributed as a cause of a single fatality in 5,000 years. Yet in 2007 there were 44,640 Americans imprisoned at the state and federal level solely for offenses related to this natural herb. There’s no count on the numbers held in local and county jails.

Bob Barr was once a federal prosecutor and, as a staunch conservative Congressman, a firm supporter of the War on Drugs.  Now he says that the effort has been a failure.

Today, I can reflect on my efforts and see no progress in stopping the widespread use of drugs. I’ll even argue that America’s drug problem is larger today than it was when Richard Nixon first coined the phrase, "War on Drugs," in 1972.

America’s drug problem is only compounded by the vast amounts of money directed at this ongoing battle. In 2005, more than $12 billion dollars was spent on federal drug enforcement efforts while another $30 billion was spent to incarcerate non-violent drug offenders.

Thus far the War on Drugs has gotten very little attention during the presidential primaries.  Even Barack Obama’s hip fling with cocaine as a youth barely made a ripple in the media or in the public mind set.  Yet I would submit that the effects of this misguided effort to enforce a sort of moral sobriety are more directly relevant to American’s everyday lives than most of the issues the campaigns have focused on thus far.

Beyond the billions that have been wasted – more money has been squandered in this effort than has been pissed away in Iraq thus far, which takes some doing – there are severe indirect effects on our society.  Chief among them are the incarceration of African-American youth, the violent crime that accompanies prohibition of these substances like a shadow, and the introduction of lethally additive synthetic drugs manufactured here at home.

With Barack Obama expected to win 80+% of the black vote come November, it seems likely that he will have some explaining to do if he continues to support the policies that have jailed so many young males among his constituency.

Indeed, Mr. Obama has gotten this issue completely wrong, having already stated that drug laws discriminate against blacks:

"But let’s not make the punishment for crack cocaine that much more severe than the punishment for powder cocaine when the real difference is where the people are using them or who is using them."

No, the War on Drugs is a stupid endeavor that is destroying our society because of the violent criminal marketplace the attempted prohibition created.  Yet drug laws are not discriminatory – we all know what the laws are and freely choose to obey them or not.  In fact the effort’s negative effects are borne by all Americans, financially and socially.

Libby again:

America’s real drug problem is its addiction to prohibition. It hasn’t worked in the last 40 and more years and it won’t ever work.

Correct.  Bob Barr says that the tens of billions of dollars we’ve spent have stopped perhaps 30% of the drugs directed toward the American market.  I doubt that we’ve been that successful given that the supply of drugs can easily be increased in response to law enforcement’s efforts, whereas our ability to stop that inflow is limited.

Let me be clear:  Consuming drugs is unhealthy, undesirable, and foolish.  I strongly urge anyone who takes drugs to stop, immediately, and seek treatment.  To those who do not indulge, good for you.  Keep saying no.  Period. 

That said, our policy of prohibition is a bad one in that it shifts the burden of bearing the effects of drug use from drug consumers to society at large.  In an unregulated drug market, users would be able to obtain drugs at low cost when they wanted them.  One result would be that they would feel the full effect of their habit on their physiology.  But no one else would be physically injured by their habit. 

Under prohibition, however, drug consumers must pay a far higher price to get the product they desire and do so through unsavory delivery channels, both of which cause drug-related crime far in excess of what would be the case in the absence of government restrictions.  These crimes are not, in my opinion, properly identified as a result of the War on Drugs or weighed against the benefits of substance prohibition.

Consider the recent case of Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Whitaker, 11, of Weleetka, Oklahoma.  The young girls were shot dead on a country road near their homes, possibly as the result of a run-in with local drug dealers.  Certainly that was the first thought that came to the minds of local citizens when they heard what had happened to the girls.

Farrow and other neighbors said they have noticed a change in the backwoods. Time was, Farrow said, he could go hunting on his property, leave his gun propped up against the house, and nobody would touch it. In the past 10 years, he has been robbed three times, he said.

The dirt roads, which Skyla and Taylor walked dozens of times for sleepovers, have changed, too, according to Farrow.

"It just went downhill out in the country," he said. "These roads ain’t nothing but drunks and dopeheads on the weekends. Sometimes, you have to drive around them, they’re passed out in the middle of the road."

Mosher said drugs may have played a role in the death of his niece and her friend.

"The girls might have walked up on some guys cooking dope," he said. "There’s been more of that stuff going on here in the past two years."

A neighbor, Ross Padgett, said drugs and the criminal element are worse than ever.

Perhaps these relatives and neighbors are wrong about why the girls were killed.  But even if this case doesn’t support my argument there have been many, many more that have.  And more will happen in the future, all as a direct result of the government’s attempt to criminalize the consumption of certain plant extracts.  It makes no sense.  In some ways that’s the worst offense of all.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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