The War on Drugs Is Lost - 1

Continuing to fight it is ruining parts of our society.  Direct that effort somewhere more useful.

"The War on Drugs!"  Nice phrase.  Good politics.  Who could possibly be against such an effort? Drugs are evil; therefore war on that evil must be good.  Right?  Well, no.  It is impossible to win that war, as a matter of human psychology and physiology.  Even waging that war is taking a horrible toll on some parts of society.  Find a better way to deal with the overall problem.   

The very phrase "war on drugs" makes it sound like a standard military exercise.  And the U.S. military never loses, right?  We stopped Hitler and Tojo, we stopped the Russkies and the Cubans, we even stopped that drug-dealing Noriega guy in Panama.  This is the way to do it.  We will use a military, or quasi-military, force to interdict drugs at the borders.  Seal the borders.  Men in fatigues shoulder-to-shoulder around the thirty thousand miles of borderline.   Okay, that doesn't work.  How about high fences, barbed wire, anti-personnel radar?  Not much better.  

But I don't want to argue border tactics here.  It's a very minor point that the border is just too large and too porous.  The major point I would like to make is trying to seal the border is totally futile, impractical, impossible, that the supply can never be stopped so long as the rewards are essentially unlimited.

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Let's take a look at some of the effects of the war on our society. 

First, criminalizing many drugs is viewed as incredibly hypocritical by a large number of Americans, millions, tens of millions.  How many millions regularly ignore the law, the social sanctions, the risk that they will have to lie some time in the future, "No, Senator, I did not inhale," to toke on that reefer?  How many otherwise respectable middle class citizens had white noses in the eighties and nineties after giving all their money to the Colombian cartels, saving only their last dollar to roll up and snort with?  How many kids watch their parents wallow in alcohol, our institutionalized legal drug, and tobacco, our most dangerous over-the-counter drug -- not to mention our numerous legal mood-altering, psychoactive tranquilizers, anti-depressants, stimulants.   What this teaches our children is disrespect for the law, that it applies only sometimes only to some people.  The high-minded reasons for banning drugs sound hollow when they apply to my favorite drug and not to yours. 



Interdiction just doesn't work.  One can stop some percentage of the drugs coming across the border, but not all.  To the smugglers, the losses are just a cost of doing business.  Effective enforcement intercepts some of the drugs and thus raises the price of the ones that get through.  The supply is so large, and the number of avenues so varied, that some will get through. 

The attempt at interdiction, combined with the vast sums of money in the business, leads to corrupton of the very law enforcement that tries to contain the problem. 




= disrespect for the law; vs alcohol, the legal drug, tobacco, the more dangerous drug

too many jails

corruption of official channels

merely raises the price

entire countries arrayed against the war


treat the demand side: top 10% of users consume 50% of supply


Comments and flames to the author:
"Why use logic when there's a flame-thrower handy?" Hey, go ahead. I didn't exactly leave the gloves on when I wrote this.

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Revised: 2001/02/04