This Month's Message From Our Founder
How Do We End The War On Drugs?
Once we understand that the War on Drugs is an abject failure, the question arises, what can we do? What is the solution for ending the drug war?
The answer is very simple. The core issues of crime and other social ills of the drug war come directly from the black market, not the drugs themselves. The black market is created by, and in fact encouraged by, the socio-economic effects of prohibition (called the "War On Drugs").
As a result, the cure can only come by ending prohibition. But ending prohibition does not mean a sudden "free for all" of "legalization".
When alcohol prohibition was repealed, it was replaced by regulations and tax statutes that restricted distribution and maintained purity and dose (alcohol content by percentage). It also placed the methods of regulation for sale to the public largely in the hands of local and state governments, where it rightly belongs.
As a nation we are a very diverse culture. The values and cultural heritage of the east are different from the south and are quite different from the values of the west. The result is that federal level recreational substance laws fail in their ignorance of underlying social issues that are highly variable across the nation.
In other words, each state and locality should be afforded their own means of dealing with issues relating to drug abuse.
Thus, ending drug prohibition will be handled much like the end of alcohol prohibition - with the strict regulation and taxation of the manufacture, distribution, and sale of recreational substances.
The model of alcohol
For instance, comparative analysis of even the most pessimistic studies of marijuana show it to be safer and more benign than alcohol. Therefore it's easy to see marijuana regulations mirroring those for beer and wine.
Hard alcohol is regulated more strictly than beer and wine, and certainly there are substances that should receive stricter regulation than marijuana. Soft drugs such as MDMA (Ecstasy), Psilocybin (Mushrooms), and Peyote, would need stricter regulation - along the lines of hard alcohol, which has significant restrictions on public use and distribution.
The very hardest of recreational substances, (i.e. the drugs with the highest physiological addiction rates, such as cocaine and heroin), would be regulated and distributed only by the government and directly to users. This distribution would seriously undercut, and virtually end, the black market for these drugs. This would greatly discourage the creation of new drug addicts.
It's important to consider this last aspect of ending prohibition most thoroughly. It is the demonized "hard drug" user that the prohibitionists point to when declaring that the drug war must be continued.
In reality, that demonization is no more warranted than that attributed to those that abuse alcohol. About 10% of the people that use alcohol use it abusively. This minority of abusive users is echoed by other substances as well. Depending on the substance, only 5% to 15% of the users develop abusive use habits. This means that 85% to 95% of users use recreationally, responsibly, and without developing abuse problems. (as a side note, marijuana and soft drugs see the lower, 5% abuse issues, while substances like heroin and cocaine tend toward the 15% abuse rates).
Ultimately, demonizing persons with abuse problems is faulty logic. These negative stereotypes do not assist the problem user, regardless of if the drug is alcohol, cocaine, or heroin. The fact that the vast majority of users are responsible, recreational users is a clear indication that the problems of drug abuse are not due to the drugs themselves, but due to individual problems with a small minority of people.
What is most telling though is that the RAND corporation's studies have show that education and treatment is 7 times more effective than criminal interdiction (and demonizing) at reducing the problems associated with drug use and abuse.
That's a savings of 700% over our current expenditures, and for a more effective program. Yet we do not spend our drug war money on education and treatment - we spend it on law enforcement and prisons - to the tune of 100 billion a year.
It's illustrative to show the results of policies in Amsterdam and Switzerland, where heroin addicts are given heroin virtually free. The result is that the heroin black market has ceased. A further result is that the addict population has stopped growing - in fact they have a 3rd the percentage of addicts as we do in the U.S. And perhaps most important, the other social ills - related crime, spread of AIDS, and health issues from tainted supply - have vanished, making their society safer and healthier overall.
In closing then, the answer is straight forward, but with variations to accommodate the significant differences in various substance use and abuse potentials.
- End the black market by ending prohibition.
- Regulate the manufacture, sale, and distribution of soft substances using the alcohol model.
- Use taxation, and spread the revenues so generated to education and treatment efforts.
- Provide addicts with clean supplies to demolish the black market, and greatly increase the availability of treatment options for them in a non-criminal setting.
This is the common sense, humanistic, and moral approach to dealing with our nation's drug problems. And until we accept this approach, our entire society will continue to suffer the failures of this war against our own people.
Drug Action Network