The War against Drugs has been a complete failure. With a budget of $30 billion, the Drug Enforcement Agency has an efficiency rate of less than 1%. Every attempt at cutting off the supply of drugs in America merely forces suppliers to innovate, resulting in drugs being produced and smuggled in more efficiently, and dramatically increasing the levels of violence both within their networks and in the countries where they operate. The effects of the Drug War are felt on millions of American families. While the United States has 4% of the world population, we have 25% of the world’s prison population – a greater number of prisoners than totalitarian China which has four times our population. In both real and proportional terms, America locks up more people than any other country – does this mean Americans are a uniquely bad people..? We do not think so.
And some prisons spend up to $100,000 annually per inmate, creating enormous potential profits, and thus an incentive to lock up ever more people. The number of prisoners – and prisons – has skyrocketed since Reagan’s tough-on-crime rhetoric and drug war were launched. Overall, the policies that make up the Drug War are inefficient, inhumane, expensive, and utterly ineffective at reducing the amount of drugs and drug addiction in our country.
I support treating drug addiction as a public health problem rather than a criminal act. Decriminalizing drug use will stop the marginalization of drug addicts from our society, allowing them more easily to seek medical treatment. As it stands, our country’s current drug policies isolate these people – cutting them off from familial and social support systems, making it harder for them to get a job, barring them from access to social welfare and education opportunities, and putting them in literal cages. Instead of providing help for a medical condition – and addiction is a medical condition, with physiological and psychological elements – we punish the sick, cut them off from society, and further punish their already weakened bodies and minds. And terms in prison often have the perverse effect of turning non-violent, private drug users into hardened criminals, dependent upon violent gangs for survival, which contributes to our abnormally high rate of recidivism. Funds need to be directed away from enforcement policies and towards rehabilitation and medical programs that help those suffering from drug addiction.
I also support the federal legalization of cannabis, with regulations in place similar to alcohol and tobacco. Its criminalization disproportionately harms young people and people of color, contributing to poverty and racial disparities in outcome, and encourages massive levels of violence and corruption. The legalization of cannabis can, on the other hand, produce a large new cash crop and the accompanying industry, which will stimulate job-creation in historically poor communities, and create significant new sources of tax revenue for state and local governments. The criminalization of cannabis is a historic mistake, enacted for corrupt and fraudulent reasons, and the substance has since been proven much less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. It also has medical applications, and legalization will allow deeper research into this.
Drugs other than cannabis need not be legalized outright, though Portugal’s case has shown that legalization can lower drug use and addiction rates, but at the least should be decriminalized. This pragmatic form of harm-reduction would wipe out the massive backlog in the courts, free up policing resources, and eliminate the need for private prisons – which ought to be banned outright. No-one should make a profit off of human misery. Decriminalization should be followed by a general amnesty for non-violent drug users who have maintained good behavior while in custody. This, too, would reduce the prison population, allowing states to close redundant facilities and use taxpayer money on more sensible areas that locking up our fellow citizens.