April 23, 2024

Casualties of the American Drug War

America’s War on Drugs is a known failure and it’s south-of-the-border derivative is literally the cause of blood – and decapitated heads – in the streets of Mexico.  Drug lords there regularly defy the government’s efforts to stop narco-terrorism and Sunday dumped twelve headless, tortured bodies in Chilpancingo along with a love note to police reading, “For every one of mine that you kill, I will kill 10.”  When will enough be enough in the failed attempt to prohibit drug use in this country by force of arms?

The U.S. has worked with many countries in a moderately successful effort to stem the supply side of the drug trade.  That’s what the bloody violence in Mexico is all about – stopping the flow of drugs at the source.  But despite some recent reports of success in this area, demand is still high, a fact that keeps the supply coming, despite the increased risk of apprehension in Latin American countries like Colombia and Mexico and longer prison sentences for convicted users here in the U.S.

Like many Americans I have mixed feelings about the WoD, as I’ve written several times.  Certainly there are risks associated with drugs from the personal health, intellectual capital, and public safety perspectives.  Drug use leads directly to poor health.  Drugs make consumers even more stupid than they already are.  Drugs and alcohol are major factors in traffic accidents, accounting for at least 13% of fatal accidents.  No one denies these elementary facts. 

During the run-up to the presidential election, Libertarian party candidate Bob Barr estimated the WoD had made a 30% reduction in the natural size of the drug market.  This leads to the question:  Do these downsides justify the massive expenditures – $48B per year, 2.3M adults in prison, 300+% in the amount spent on “corrections” – that America is pumping into the effort?

Anti-drug laws may, on a net financial basis, make sense, though I’m unaware of a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis study on the subject.  But when considering the personal liberty issue, I don’t find the argument against legalizing drugs like marijuana and cocaine compelling. 

So long as the damage drugs do to an adult user is kept internal, meaning he/she doesn’t injure or kill anyone while under the influence and personally bears the inevitable medical costs associated with drug use, the state has no business regulating their consumption.  It’s only when children use drugs and/or drug effects are externalized that they become a legitimate concern for law enforcement. 

Presumedly the latter would be managed ala alcohol in terms of criminal proceedings, the primary concern of the public being traffic and job-related accidents while under the influence. 

The problem of underage drug abusers is the only aspect of drug prohibition that makes logical sense.  This is a legitimate public policy concern, much as underage alcohol consumption is.  It does follow that legalizing MJ for those 18 and older would lead to increased availability to juveniles.  But is that fact in itself enough to justify the entire cost of the WoD?

The families of the latest victims of Mexico’s cousin to our WoD might have strong feelings about that question and justifiably so.  It was, after all, America’s War on Drugs that created the violent environment that lead to their torture and death at the hands of their own countrymen.


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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