There’s a great big elephant in the war on terrorism room, and its name is spelled war on d-r-u-g-s. According to the conservative Middle East Foundation think tank, drug trafficking, an estimated $2 trillion market per year, “has become the best weapon for terrorists. Beyond helping terrorists to finance their wide range of illegal activities, the drug market has also allowed terrorist organizations to undermine targeted countries both politically and economically, while at the same time creating a crisis in the targeted country’s public health system.”
Colombian druglord raid
While the article referenced above goes on to argue that this implies we should intensify and expand the war on drugs, I’m with the libertarians on this one – who think quite the opposite. Here’s why.
Morally, the war on drugs is bankrupt. While sustained drug use is certainly harmful (whether legal / prescription or illegal), it does not follow that just because this is so, people should be prohibited from deciding what they can or can’t do with their bodies. Otherwise why not prohibit skydiving, swimming, overeating – or driving a car? 500,000 people die every year from alcohol and tobacco use. Guess how many deaths there are from all illicit drug use, directly and indirectly? 17,000. Many times more people die in the US from car crashes than from drug overdoses. (In fact about 11 times more people die in the US from car crashes every year than die from all terrorism worldwide. That would be 44,000 car crash deaths in the US versus around 4,000 deaths around the world from terrorism, and the latter figure includes deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan).
Treating drug use as an issue of moral depravity is an absurd anachronism that was first spread when Christian fundamentalists began their takeover of US government policy early last century, culminating in their prohibition of alcohol. Look how well that turned out.
Every single culture throughout human history has had its own religion, and its own drug(s). It should be abundantly clear that you are never going to stop drug use. Ever. It should be patently obvious to anyone with a pulse that the war on drugs has failed by every metric and requires a new approach because, as former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso noted in Der Spiegel, “with such a thriving market, there is always someone who will risk everything.”
So instead, just for shits and giggles, let’s start treating the issue of drugs like we’re responsible adults instead of medieval peasants scared to death of the drugs boogieman. Lets completely remove the terrorists’ and gangs’ major source of funding, and legalize drugs. All of them. Let’s put the government in control of who can and can’t buy them, rather than gangs and terrorists. Let’s regulate what age you have to be to buy drugs, rather than schoolkids being able buy them now. Let’s control what places you can buy drugs from, what time you can buy them, and the price of them. Let’s control the purity of them. Let’s remove the romantic, rebellious allure of drug use, and make it banal instead. Let’s remove the bulk of non-violent, victimless-crime prisoners (i.e. drug users) from prison populations; they are the reason the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world at 7.54 prisoners per 1,000 people – handily beating China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and other places not exactly known for their freedoms. In 2008, 1.5 million Americans were arrested for drug offenses. 500,000 were imprisoned.
Most of all, let’s save all that money! A 2008 study by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron estimated that legalizing drugs would inject $76.8 billion a year into the U.S. economy — $44.1 billion from law enforcement savings, and at least $32.7 billion in tax revenue ($6.7 billion from marijuana, $22.5 billion from cocaine and heroin, with the remainder from other drugs). That doesn’t include the savings from not having to build new prisons, or from having productive citizens paying their taxes instead of costing them as they sit rotting in jail cells.
Last year former constitutional lawyer, author and Salon blogger Glen Greenwald published a white paper for the libertarian Cato Institute that examined the effects of Portugal’s decision nearly 8 years ago to decriminalize all drugs. The upshot? Drug usage rates have stayed about the same, while deaths from drugs have dropped considerably, and the prison population has plummeted. In permissive Holland, drug use is about half that of America.
Drugs aren’t bad. They’re not good either. They’re just tools that we can put to good use or bad use. The more you try to enforce drug prohibition, the higher you drive the profits of the gangs and terrorists that control the drug trade, the more power they have, the more violence they’re capable of, and the less money you have to spend on productive things like healthcare, infrastructure upgrades, or tax cuts.
Given that we could quickly put international terrorists out of business if we legalized all drugs, and that doing so would largely incapacitate terrorists’ ability to act on a global scale, doesn’t that make you question just how seriously our leaders are taking the wars on drugs and terror?
This is a debate that is unlikely to grace the halls of the world’s political capitals for possibly a generation. Why? Firstly because of the many humans who have grown up indoctrinated with inane anti-drug propaganda, but secondly, and more importantly, because of the entrenched interests legalization threatens. Namely, the anti-rationality religious right, the prison-industrial complex who quite like the US leading the world in incarceration numbers thank-you-very-much, the police chiefs who rely on the War on Drugs to continue funding their departments, and the synthetic materials industries that marijuana hemp could put out of business.
So instead of even discussing our options, our political leaders will continue to keep their collective heads comfortably up their well greased asses about this anti-rational, insanely costly, and completely counter-productive policy for another 25 years. Enjoying how
a semi-fascist-theocracy democracy works?
Update: Salon again advocates a retreat from the war on drugs.