The Federal Government, while trying to protect us from our human nature, developed harsh anti-drug policies with the hope of eradicating drugs. At the time, these policies seemed simple enough: we will impose penalties on those who use substances illegally, we will intercept drugs coming from other countries while ending all drug cultivation in the States, and we will even try to prevent foreign governments from growing these substances. The idea of the Drug Prohibition surely made sense: lower demand of drugs by law enforcement, and reduce supply through domestic and international means.
Unfortunately, the Drug Prohibition led to heavy costs, both financially and otherwise, while being ineffective, if not, at times, counterproductive. Today, we can see the unforeseen costs of the “Drug Prohibition,” and we should consider these costs before expanding the “War on Drugs. ” First, among the costs of the “War on Drugs,” the most obvious is monetary cost. The direct cost of purchasing drugs for private use is $100 billion a year. The federal government spends at least $10 billion a year on drug enforcement programs and spends many billions more on drug-related crimes nd punishment.
The estimated cost to the United States for the “War on Drugs” is $200 billion a year or an outstanding $770 per person per year, and that figure does not include the money spent by state and local government in this “war” (Evans and Berent, eds. xvii). The second cost of this “war” is something economist like to call opportunity costs. Here, we have two resources which are limited: prison cells and law enforcement. When more drug crimes take up law enforcement’s time and when more drug criminals take up cells, less ability to fight other crime exists.
This becomes significant when an estimated 35-40 million Americans use drugs per year. In 1994, law enforcement arrested some 750,000 people on drug charges, and of those 750,000, 600,000 were charged merely with possession. Sixty percent of the prison population are drug offenders (Wink). The police, therefore, most work to find these 35 million “criminals,” thereby exhausting their resources. Also, in major urban centers, the number of drug offences brought to trial are outstanding.
For example, in Washington in 1994, 52% of all indictments were drug related as opposed to 13% in 1981 (Evans and Berent, eds. 1). All aspects of our legal system are being exhausted on drugs when it could be used more effectively on other felonies or focused on preventing children from buying drugs. Another two legal aspects of Drug Prohibition are interesting since they show how the “Prohibition” is not only ineffective, but also counterproductive. The first of which is the fact that the illegality of drugs leads to huge profits for drug dealers and traffickers.
Ironically, the Drug Prohibition benefits most the drug traffickers and dealers as prices are pushed well above cost (Evans and Berent, eds. 22). The second aspect of the “Drug Prohibition” that undermines law enforcement is the need for drug users to commit personal property crimes. One-third of the people arrested for burglary and robbery said that they stole only to support their habit, and about 75% of personal property crimes were committed by drug abusers. Studies also suggest that these people, when placed on outpatient drug therapy or sold drugs at a lower price commit much less crime (Duke).
Even the DEA admits that, “Drug use was common among inmates serving time for robbery, burglary, and drug offenses” (“Crime, Violence”). Drug Prohibition has been very costly, detrimental to our relations with other countries, and harmful to users and society alike. All this while trying to battle an enemy who is not as dangerous as it is currently believed by most of the American public. The unpleasantries of the history of Drug Prohibition also show us how the public has been mislead through Prohibition.
Many of these disagreeable acts were not circumstances of Drug Prohibition, rather goals of it, whether it was understood or not. The United States’ image in Latin America has been precarious nearly from its birth. The image of the American intent on dominating the New World plays in the minds of our neighbors. Recently, though, the situation is interesting since the countries involved are growing less and less complacent to deal with the losses of sovereignty that they are incurring.
Drug Prohibition not only plays out on the American stage, but is a focal point of US relations with the countries of Latin America. So, as each of these countries has to pay the costs of Yankee Imperialism, the tension between neighbors is increasing. The first of the tensions comes from Colombia. Unfortunately, our crusade gainst drugs has caused the famous cartels of South America and, especially, those of Colombia. Many wonder if we are justified in putting pressure on these countries just to slow the drug trade.
The deaths of thousands of innocent Colombians were the result of our actions in these countries (Evans and Berent, eds. 58). The growth of the cartels, especially the Cali cartel, has led to political corruption in that country. “The President [Ernesto Samper] was said to have taken money from drug traffickers so that the government would stop other groups from exporting cocaine. He promised in his campaign a fight against drugs, but nobody can trust a President who took money from the cartels,” said David Casas, a resident of Cali, Colombia.
This unnecessary death and corruption in other countries due to United States’ drug policy sometimes lead to hostility toward us (Casas). Because of the problems South American countries have faced because of Drug Prohibition, Colombia’s Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez has written a manifesto declaring the drug war as “useless” (15). Action abroad by the United States has also led to an increase in subversive organizations worldwide. Civil war is currently being threatened in Bolivia by a coca-growing union.
The group, which feels that the Bolivian government has been too open to challenges in sovereignty, is fighting “Yankee Imperialism” and control by the DEA of a coca-growing region (Epstein 1). In Colombia and Peru, groups like the communist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), both Communist groups, that survive on drug money lead such acts as kidnaping foreign visitors, leading bombings on American buisnesses in the country, and attempting to destroy institutions f governments friendly to the United States (Spiegel 480).
This subversion of government can even reach our beauracracy as the CIA is rumored to have allowed the Nicaraguan Contras to sell drugs in the US to fund their revolution against the Sandinistas (“CIA” 20). Therefore, in South America, our persistence on Drug Prohibition has not only been unable to prevent the further imports of drugs, but also could lead to the installation of Communist regimes in the area. Since the other costs of Drug Prohibition has its base domestically, the conversation will turn to rights and liberties which help to explain why the drug war is not
American and why it might not be effective. This requires a discussion on the role of government. The ultimate end of government is to protect our rights. We’ve entered a social contract with our governments: that we will give our obedience and taxes in return for protection of our rights. The United Nations classifies these rights in three “generations”: civil, socioeconomic, and solidarity rights (Peterson). Shielding our people from the dangers of a threatening world, therefore, seems to be an appropriate use of the state’s power under socioeconomic rights.
The danger in thinking in this manner is that it verlooks the individual’s contributions to the nation. These contributions, either positive or negative, are generally difficult to regulate by broad legislation. In fact, at times, legislation can be counterproductive, trying zealously to protect one right by violating many others. We saw in the former U. S. S. R. what can happen when government begins to enforce positive liberty. Positive liberty is different from what we usually think of as liberty, which is negative liberty.
A negative liberty is one like the First Amendment which keeps the government from doing omething, namely limiting your rights to speech and religion. A positive liberty is one which forces the government to provide some service to its citizens. An example of a positive liberty is the government’s responsibility to protect our inalienable rights. The danger with expanding positive liberties is that it gives government a more active role in people’s rights.
For that reason most would believe that government should not give itself too many positive liberties as did the Soviet Union (Peterson). Drug Prohibition is an example of a positive liberty because it ives the government the go ahead to do what it must to give us a drug-free America. However, we should ask the question: is it worth keeping Drug Prohibition as a positive liberty when it infringes upon both our negative and positive liberties, not the least of which are life and liberty? U. S. District Judge William W. Schwarzer helped explain this when he said ending drug use is useless “if in the process we lose our soul” (Trebach and Inciardi 29).
Today he might say “since” instead of “if” since the injustice and the cost on society of Prohibition is already well ingrained nto our society. There could be two possible explanations for Drug Prohibition: we must protect people from harming themselves, or we want people to avoid drugs because extensive drug use harms society. Proponents of Drug Prohibition think one or both of these reasons is adequate for continuing Prohibition.
The first is based on the people’s right to life, and the second is based on the right for pursuit of happiness. However, there are fallacies in both statements, as will be shown. Before we can admit that our reasoning for Drug Prohibition is wrong, we must find a better alternative. The solution proposed in this essay is one of establishing free markets both internationally and domestically. The proponents of drug decriminalization have basic assumptions about what would result from a free market.
For now, we will focus on what proponents of drug legalization think the implications of a free drug market would be for the individual users. These assumptions are that illegal drugs are not as dangerous as currently legal drugs and that the decriminalization of drugs will not greatly increase the number of drug addicts. First, most illegal drugs are not as dangerous as believed, and those that re truly dangerous will be avoided. This is essential to the argument for decriminalization since we do not wish to have a large number of people die from a policy.
However, if we compare the number of people who die annually from “appropriate” drugs to that of the number of people who die annually from illicit drugs, we would be inconsistent to think of the illicit drugs as dangerous. For example, 60 million Americans have tried marijuana and not one of these 60 million have died of an overdose. If this is compared to the 10,000 people who die annually from overdosing on alcohol, one can ssume that marijuana is much less dangerous than alcohol.
Also, many drugs have minor side-effects when compared to acceptable drugs. One example, heroin, is highly addictive, but when used in a clean environment with clean needles, its worst side effect is constipation (Evans and Berent, eds. 24). Overall, while 35 million people use drugs each year in the United States, only 6,000 to 30,000 ever die of drug use; therefore, there is little reason to consider illicit drugs as a great danger to the individual, considering our opinions of alcohol and tobacco (Wink).