« Big changes to the sex offender registration provisions of the Adam Walsh Act proposed | Main | Annual national USSC seminar only a month away and not to be missed by sentencing fans »

May 13, 2010

AP reviews evidence of 40 years of failure of the "war on drugs."

The AP has this long and effective new piece headlined, "US drug war has met none of its goals."  Here are excerpts:

After 40 years, the United States' war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn't worked. "In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

This week President Obama promised to "reduce drug use and the great damage it causes" with a new national policy that he said treats drug use more as a public health issue and focuses on prevention and treatment.

Nevertheless, his administration has increased spending on interdiction and law enforcement to record levels both in dollars and in percentage terms; this year, they account for $10 billion of his $15.5 billion drug-control budget. Kerlikowske, who coordinates all federal anti-drug policies, says it will take time for the spending to match the rhetoric. "Nothing happens overnight," he said. "We've never worked the drug problem holistically. We'll arrest the drug dealer, but we leave the addiction."

His predecessor, John P. Walters, takes issue with that. Walters insists society would be far worse today if there had been no War on Drugs.  Drug abuse peaked nationally in 1979 and, despite fluctuations, remains below those levels, he says.... 

Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses. At the same time, drug abuse is costing the nation in other ways. The Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse -- "an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction" -- cost the United States $215 billion a year.

Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron says the only sure thing taxpayers get for more spending on police and soldiers is more homicides. "Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use," Miron said, "but it's costing the public a fortune."...

The $320 billion annual global drug industry now accounts for 1 percent of all commerce on the planet. A full 10 percent of Mexico's economy is built on drug proceeds -- $25 billion smuggled in from the United States every year, of which 25 cents of each $100 smuggled is seized at the border....

A decade ago, no politician who wanted to keep his job would breathe a word about legalization, but a consensus is growing across the country that at least marijuana will someday be regulated and sold like tobacco and alcohol. California voters decide in November whether to legalize marijuana, and South Dakota will vote this fall on whether to allow medical uses of marijuana, already permitted in California and 13 other states....

So why persist with costly programs that don't work? Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, sitting down with the AP at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, paused for a moment at the question. "Look," she says, starting slowly. "This is something that is worth fighting for because drug addiction is about fighting for somebody's life, a young child's life, a teenager's life, their ability to be a successful and productive adult.

"If you think about it in those terms, that they are fighting for lives -- and in Mexico they are literally fighting for lives as well from the violence standpoint -- you realize the stakes are too high to let go."

May 13, 2010 at 09:29 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference AP reviews evidence of 40 years of failure of the "war on drugs.":


Not a failure at all. Its sole aim has been fulfilled. Government jobs by the bucket.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 14, 2010 9:37:53 AM

May 14, 2010: the day I agreed with Supremacy Claus. I'm writing this down.

Posted by: arx | May 14, 2010 2:10:28 PM

"May 14, 2010: the day I agreed with Supremacy Claus. I'm writing this down."

god help us all, me too, but let's don't make a habit of it.

Posted by: :) | May 14, 2010 3:27:44 PM

Listening but not hearing:

"His predecessor, John P. Walters, takes issue with that. . . .
'To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous,' Walters said. 'It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcment, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided.'"

Worse that ridiculous. True.

Posted by: ohwilleke | May 14, 2010 4:18:01 PM

Arx: If you are a lawyer, I am your savior, if only you could open your heart to what will make the profession smaller, greater, 4 times more lucrative, and 10 times more esteemed, for the added value (profit not rent) it brings to all of us. I am the one yelling from the side, with the rope, trying to pull you from the sucking of the quicksand/swamp/cesspool in which you are immersed.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 14, 2010 10:47:24 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB