Losing Another War

The United States War on Drugs costs many tens of billions of dollars every year, probably over $100 billion when all costs are included. This war increases crimes of many types, incarcerates more of our population than almost any other country, and disrupts law and governments around the world.

Is there a more rational way? I don't dispute that drug use, particularly some drug use (crack, crank, pcb...) is very harmful to the users, but our present policies are failing to deprive users of these drugs and generating lucrative and criminal enterprises from Asia to Europe to the Americas.

People take drugs to feel good. For the most part, if a middle class person feels bad, they can get drugs to relieve anxiety, promote mild euphoria, and relieve pain legally and relatively safely. Many of the worst effects of the major illegal drugs are accidental side effects of the drugs themselves. If modern pharmacology could produce drugs that gave some of the beneficial effects of illegal drugs without the extreme hazards and destructive side effects of heroin, crack, crystal meth, etc., wouldn't that be a net benefit to society? If drug addicts could access legal drugs without resorting to robbery, prostitution, and other destructive activities, wouldn't that also be beneficial?

Similarly if addicts had ready access to treatment programs and medications which would ameliorate their addictions, wouldn't that also be a social good? Despite the trillions that have been poured into the drug wars, very little has been spent on such efforts.

Some of that is because of the genuine fear of creating a society of non-functional druggies, but much more is motivated by a mean and unworthy desire to punish any unfortunate lucky enough to get some small measure of illicit pleasure.

What I'm proposing is a large scale research program to produce medications and programs that safely help addicts quit, coupled with the development of safer substitute drugs that could be sold legally. Meanwhile, the most dangerous drugs should be regulated rather than prohibited, so that if one really wanted to buy some crack, you could, from your pharmacist, but it would have an FDA seal of purity and a brochure offering free treatment programs and safer and cheaper substitutes.

Most of the vast apparatus of the war on drugs could be dispensed with, and a whole lot of jails closed. Drug dealing would no longer be a highly profitable criminal enterprise.


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