Photo: Giuseppe Bognanni
Sometimes the United States finds itself in wars that it cannot win. And the worst part about it, we don’t lose either. What can possibly be worse than losing a war? If they go on indefinitely. Well here is one war that has been going on for 40 years with no end in sight: the war on drugs.
School initiatives began 40 years ago to educate children about the dangers of drugs and to “just say no”. I don’t think anyone can argue against trying to keep drugs away from children. But that doesn’t mean it is effective – since 1970 there has been a 0% change in high school drug use.
Any new ideas or are we just going to keep plugging away and hope it eventually works? I can’t help but think of Albert Einstein’s quote, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I hate to break it to you, but 40 years = over and over.
Russ Jones is a retired narc who has spent over 30 years on the front line of the war – he should know better than almost anyone how we are doing. And he believes it is time to call it off!
“The U.S. over the last four decades has spent $1 trillion of our tax dollars, made 38 million nonviolent drug arrests and quadrupled our prison population,” Jones said. “And the rate of addiction today, 1.3 percent, is the same as it was in 1970, when we started.”
Isn’t it a good thing that there have been 38 million arrests? Isn’t that progress? Well, not really! Do you think all the addicts that bought from that dealer are just going to stop using and start going to church on Sundays? Nope. The next drug dealer slides right in and business keeps humming.
“When I arrested a rapist or a robber, the community was safer,” Jones said. “When I arrested a drug dealer, all I did was create a job opening.”
It is a simple economic weighing the pros vs. cons . For the dealers it is well worth the risk of time in jail and getting shot at in order to make obscene amounts of money – it’s either that or working for minimum wage. If only they had some better alternatives. If only there were a better way to change someone’s habits other than time in the slammer.
Boy the costs sure do add up – the good news is I don’t have to do a complete analysis of the costs to figure it out. I’ll throw out some numbers and you think of ways you would rather use the money.
$15 billion in Obama’s 2011 budget request. Add that to state government spending of $30+ million. That’s per year. And it keeps going up.
Over the last 40 years it has cost $121 billion to arrest drug offenders and $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons. That is an expensive hotel bill. You know how they say it costs more in legal bills to give someone a death sentence than it does to lock them up and feed them for the rest of their lives? Well how many of our tax dollars go to public prosecutors to convict them? Again, I don’t have to know the answer to that question to know it is too much.
The Obvious First Step
Why not start by legalizing the least harmful illegal drug that accounts for over half of all drug related arrests? Marijuana is healthier and safer than alcohol, a substance we have no reservations to abuse every weekend. Do you think the world is going to end if all of a sudden it is made legal? Let me ask this question: if you don’t smoke it now, are you going to start if it were legal tomorrow? Is the law really what is holding you back? I know it’s not the availability – go to a concert and you see people willingly sharing their joints.
Even though I am personally not attracted to marijuana, I can see the benefits of legalizing it. It takes an open mind to realize that legalizing a substance does not mean that you support it. Just like a stance for legalizing abortion doesn’t mean that you think it is the greatest hobby in the world.
Thinking Outside the Box
Switzerland sells heroin. That sentence alone is reason enough for a government to run the other direction. Switzerland started a program in 1994 to provide a steady, clean dose to junkies who have been using for years and failed to quit via other programs. They have reduced overdoses, HIV, and drug related crime. German, Dutch, and Canadian cities have since added their own heroin prescription programs.
Zurich was also home to a place in the early 90s affectionately named “Needle Park”. It was a place where heroin users could openly do their deed without prosecution. The idea was to keep them all in the same place so that social workers could provide clean needles and overdoses could be treated quicker. This idea didn’t last that long because of the type of people it attracted from all over Europe. But they tried. They realized things weren’t exactly going that well and tried to do something about it. I applaud their ballsy efforts.
It is easy for us sitting at home to say “drugs are bad”, “we should punish those responsible”, and “we can’t let them win”. But what is winning? Is the expectation that we will be able to entirely wipe recreational drug use off the face of the earth? Sorry, not possible.
Want to decrease drug related violence? Legalize it. All of it. If all drugs can be purchased from the government, guess who controls the price? If the drug cartels can’t make money they will quickly leave the business. It’s economic warfare and it may be the only way to end this 40 year war.
At the end of the day, you simply have to trust people to act in their own best interest. If people realize it is in their best interest to not get addicted to drugs, they won’t use them. About 1.3% of the population will disregard the advice.
Please leave your thoughts below – I am interested in hearing who is reading and what you think on such a controversial topic. As always, be considerate of other viewpoints …