The Lost War–The War on Drugs

The Washington Post reviews why we are losing the war on drugs, noting that prohibition does not work:

Thirty-six years and hundreds of billions of dollars after President Richard M. Nixon launched the war on drugs, consumers worldwide are taking more narcotics and criminals are making fatter profits than ever before. The syndicates that control narcotics production and distribution reap the profits from an annual turnover of $400 billion to $500 billion. And terrorist organizations such as the Taliban are using this money to expand their operations and buy ever more sophisticated weapons, threatening Western security.

In the past two years, the drug war has become the Taliban’s most effective recruiter in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s Muslim extremists have reinvigorated themselves by supporting and taxing the countless peasants who are dependent one way or another on the opium trade, their only reliable source of income. The Taliban is becoming richer and stronger by the day, especially in the east and south of the country. The “War on Drugs” is defeating the “war on terror.”

* * *

For the past three years, I have been traveling the world researching a book on the jaw-dropping rise of transnational organized crime since the collapse of communism and the advent of globalization. I have witnessed how a ferocious drug gang mounted an assault on Sao Paolo, closing the city for three days as citizens cowered at home. I have watched Bedouins shift hundreds of kilos of cocaine across the Egyptian-Israeli border on the backs of camels, and observed how South Africa and West Africa have become an international narcotics distribution hub.

The trade in illegal narcotics begets violence, poverty and tragedy. And wherever I went around the world, gangsters, cops, victims, academics and politicians delivered the same message: The war on drugs is the underlying cause of the misery. Everywhere, that is, except Washington, where a powerful bipartisan consensus has turned the issue into a political third rail.

The problem starts with prohibition, the basis of the war on drugs. The theory is that if you hurt the producers and consumers of drugs badly enough, they’ll stop doing what they’re doing. But instead, the trade goes underground, which means that the state’s only contact with it is through law enforcement, i.e. busting those involved, whether producers, distributors or users. But so vast is the demand for drugs in the United States, the European Union and the Far East that nobody has anything approaching the ability to police the trade.

Prohibition gives narcotics huge added value as a commodity. Once traffickers get around the business risks — getting busted or being shot by competitors — they stand to make vast profits. A confidential strategy report prepared in 2005 for British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cabinet and later leaked to the media offered one of the most damning indictments of the efficacy of the drug war. Law enforcement agencies seize less than 20 percent of the 700 tons of cocaine and 550 tons of heroin produced annually. According to the report, they would have to seize 60 to 80 percent to make the industry unprofitable for the traffickers.

The article provides more information and concludes with looking for alternatives:

Could anything replace the war on drugs? There’s no easy answer. In May, the Senlis Council, a group that works on the opium issue in Afghanistan, argued that “current counter-narcotics policies . . . have focused on poppy eradication, without providing farmers with viable alternatives.” Instead of eradication, the council, which is made up of senior politicians and law enforcement officials from Canada and Europe, concludes that Afghan farmers should be permitted to grow opium that can then be refined and distributed for medical purposes. (That’s not going to happen, as the United States has recently reiterated its commitment to poppy eradication.)

Others argue that the only way to minimize the criminality and social distress that drugs cause is to legalize narcotics so that the state may exert proper control over the industry. It needs to be taxed and controlled, they insist.

In Washington, the war on drugs has been a third-rail issue since its inauguration. It’s obvious why — telling people that their kids can do drugs is the kiss of death at the ballot box. But that was before 9/11. Now the drug war is undermining Western security throughout the world. In one particularly revealing conversation, a senior official at the British Foreign Office told me, “I often think we will look back at the War on Drugs in a hundred years’ time and tell the tale of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ This is so stupid.”

How right he is.

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4 Comments

  1. 1
    beachmom says:

    Well, I know someone who is still engaged in the War on Drugs with major, major budget cuts. We’re definitely losing, but these guys I know engaged in the fight said the problem was going into places like Colombia, cleaning it up, and then suddenly leaving only to have the drug cartels take over the villages again. I haven’t decided what my opinion on this is yet. I have no problem with legalized marijuana, but the harder stuff, I find problematic to have available so easily.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    “I have no problem with legalized marijuana, but the harder stuff, I find problematic to have available so easily.”

    I don’t know for sure what the best solution is, but the current course sure isn’t working and is creating a lot of harm beyond whatever harm the drugs might cause. Plus they already are available farily easily.

  3. 3
    Pat says:

    “[President Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.” H.R. Haldeman’s diaries.

    That “system” was then and still is today the drug war.

    the drug war has effectively subverted the Voting Rights Act and the 26st Amendment. this was the real intent of Nixon, in collusion with the Dixie-crats of that time. The blue dogs and DLC Democrats of today including the Clintons. Bill gave us a world record prison population and Hillary proudly declares that she will return us to those days.

    SEE: Legalized Racial Discrimination in America
    Drug Busts=Jim Crow
    Ira Glasser
    http://independentsofamerica.blogspot.com/2007/07/legalized-racial-discrimination-in.html

    “The fact is, just as Jim Crow laws were a successor system to slavery, so drug prohibition has been a successor to Jim Crow laws in targeting blacks, removing them from civil society and then denying them the right to vote while using their bodies to enhance white political power. Drug prohibition is now the last significant instance of legalized racial discrimination in America.

    That many liberals have been at best timid in opposing the drug war and at worst accomplices to its continued escalation is, in light of the racial politics of drug prohibition, a special outrage. It is also politically self-destructive, serving to keep in power white conservatives opposed to everything liberals stand for. Liberals especially, therefore, need to consider attacking the premises upon which this edifice of racial subjugation is based. If they do not, who will?”

    Hard drugs cannot be any more easily available than they are today in the total anarchy fo prohibition. The only way to restore our democracy and mitigate the gangsterism and terrorism impacts caused by the drug war is to regulate the entire spectrum of drugs. Leaving any illegal leaves a vacuum that organized crime and terrorists will exploit.

    The democratic institutions of regulation, licensing and taxation are the only way to fight the anarchy of a totally unregulated black market. The authoritarianism of prohibition was a failure for the Volstead Act and it is a failure in the drug war. Politicians who insist on prohibition over regulation are defending authoritarianism and abandoning democracy.

    Besides, In this other dirty little war of richard Nixon’s Children have become the unwitting cannon fodder in war on terror
    http://independentsofamerica.blogspot.com/2007/08/childrenunwitting-cannon-fodder-in-war.html

  4. 4
    b-psycho says:

    My personal key view on this is that it’s a matter of denial writ large.

    Think about why most people who do drugs tend to do so, and put it in national terms. As a society, we’re hiding from something, and until we figure out what that is, we’re going to keep replacing reality with chemicals, law or no law. This is why it’s so hard for many to acknowledge how pointless the War on Drugs is, because then they’d have to seriously consider why we do so much of them.

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