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We Lost the Drug War

The “War on Drugs” has been an outright failure. We have spent the last forty years trying to eliminate drug use only to see the United States become the number one consumer of recreational drugs in the world. Our prisons are full of addicts, and we spent billions every year to track them down and put them there with almost no thought given to what kind of treatment they need. We have seen the rise of ruthless drug cartels, organizations that now dictate the function of a number of Latin American countries. All under the assumption that prohibition, which already failed, can solve our substance abuse problem.

Starting with President Nixon every president elected has used the War on Drugs as a way to strengthen their position. Each has promised the redouble their efforts to eliminate the “evils of substance abuse”, every one of them has failed. Every year, drug enforcement budgets have increased, the means of enforcement have become more ruthless, and drug users have been thoroughly vilified through government-sponsored anti-drug campaigns. Propaganda that focuses entirely on the user, failing to admit the much more significant role of the dealer in the spread and continued use of illicit substances. The users are the criminals, the users are the deviants, the users are the ones destroying our precious Christian society.

People have been using drugs for a long time, and many religions use mind-altering substances as part of their worship. Like alcohol, various drugs have also been used for recreational purposes for hundreds of years. However, the kinds of drugs available and the frequency with which we use them have increased dramatically following President Nixon’s declaration of war on drugs in 1971. Between1980 and 2006 drug-related arrests increased 325% from 580,900 to 1,889,810, and drug-related deaths have risen 200%.Admittedly the factors that contribute to this situation are complex, but the correlation between drug enforcement and drug abuse is not negligible. It has even been shown, in countries like Portugal and the Netherlands, that decriminalization has significantly decreased the amount of substance abuse, in the case of Portugal by 50% over the last ten years.

In response to the growing number of drug users legislators and law enforcement officials have become increasingly punitive: drug-related infractions carrying extremely heavy penalties, even for small amounts sentences of six months or more can be issued. The idea law makers have is: the more punitive the law, the more effective a deterrent it will be. Drug users are criminals, plain and simple. However, addiction is not a legal problem, it is a medical problem. If sexually transmitted diseases were considered criminal offenses we would be nowhere near where we are now in terms of treatment and prevention. People would be dying of perfectly curable and preventable conditions simple because the War on Sexually Transmitted Diseases had reduced the victims to subhuman carriers of a pernicious evil. Drug users, like people with sexually transmitted diseases, need treatment, not punishment.

The laws of supply and demand do not become inoperative simply because a good or service is prohibited by law. Drug trafficking is a huge, billion dollar enterprise in a market that is becoming increasingly competitive. Increased security on American borders have forced everyone but the wealthiest and most ruthless cartels out of business. The ones that remain control nearly all of the drug traffic in the Unite States. The amount of money they bring in means they can essentially buy any third world government they want, giving them unlimited power within that country. Colombia, for example, is run but the Colombian Cartel; their money is in everybody’s pockets and they have the freedom to operate however they wish.

If Prohibition taught us anything it is that the harder you push to eliminate a behavior or practice the more intense people make it. Beer has always been the drink of the people, but during Prohibition they turned to hard liquor, hard, unregulated liquor. They had no idea what they were drinking. Similarly, drug users are subject to the effects of entirely unregulated substances; most overdoses occur due to fluctuations in purity and concentration in the drugs people use. Additionally, people are likely to use harder drugs in situations where there are no legal channels to obtain them from. The effects on alcohol consumption after Prohibition was repealed attest to that.

Drug users are people, in many cases sick people, but human nonetheless. If we can consider this problem from not only a medical but also a piratical standpoint, we will see that regulation and decriminalization are the only paths that will have any success. Prohibition has already set a precedent, Portugal and the Netherlands have shown that decriminalization for users works, and the States that have implemented treatment programs in favor of punitive measures for drug use and and possession have seen favorable results.