Since the 1960s, the U.S. has been entrenched in the ‘war on drugs.’ Whether it be in Mexico, Afghanistan or on our own soil, billions of dollars have been pumped into ineffective and wasteful anti-drug efforts.
The London School of Economics recently completed a thorough study on the war on drugs and came to the conclusion that it has done more harm than good. It is time for the U.S. to end the war and redirect resources into more effectual programs. The militarized enforcement of drug laws around the world has produced enormous negative outcomes.
The five Nobel Economics prizewinners who participated in the study found that drug prohibition creates a large black market that is more dangerous than the drugs themselves. The highly adaptive illegal market leads to increased homicide and incarceration. The demand for illegal drugs is high enough that if the market is stamped out in one region, it will quickly resurface in another.
Although drug enforcement attempts to repress markets through increased arrests and prosecution, they will never be successful due to the transient and resilient nature of trafficking, making the $51 million that the U.S. spends annually on drug enforcement a waste.
The London School of Economics found that the U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the global population but is home to over 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. Most are drug or other non-violent offenders for whom treatment and rehabilitation could prove more effective. Rehab for low priority offenders is more cost effective and can lower rates of recidivism by giving offenders a chance at a clean record for future employment.
Worldwide, 40 percent of the approximately nine million inmates are behind bars on drug-related charges. As the U.N.’s 2016 Drug Policy Summit approaches, there is hope that countries will abandon their one-size-fits-all policies, such as zero tolerance policies, in favor of more comprehensive approaches. Some U.N. countries like Uruguay and the Netherlands have already started experimenting with the positive outcomes of legalizing marijuana and opiates.
In the U.S., Washington state and Colorado voters have backed legalizing and regulating the growth, distribution and sale of marijuana. This approach should be closely monitored by the federal government over the coming year, and if successful at reducing incarceration and recidivism, be implemented around the world.
New policy and legislation focusing on public health and drug education should be made a top priority. Public health groups like the Open Society Foundation have supported harm reduction programs such as needle exchanges that are effective at preventing HIV transmission. For every dollar invested in needle exchange, $27 can be saved in HIV treatment.
These programs educate drug users and reduce drug-related health problems. Resources should be redirected toward controlled experiments and studies to determine the most effective approaches to combating the harmful effects of the illegal drug trade.
It is obvious that the money spent on the war on drugs is money wasted. Despite the increased enforcement of drug laws, incarceration continues to rise and the illegal drug market remains a $300 billion industry. Rigorously monitored policy, experimentation and the redirection of resources may prove to be the solution to the war on drugs.
Natalie Pimblett is a junior political science major.