On June 17, 1971, Richard Nixon announced a plan to “tighten the noose around the necks of drug peddlers, and thereby loosen the noose around the necks of drug users.”
Spurred on by an estimated 30,000 Vietnam servicemen addicted to heroin, and an estimated 250,000 civilian drug addicts, Nixon announced the War on Drugs and the formation of a new government office, the Special Action Office of Drug Abuse Prevention.
Forty years later, major world leaders are declaring that we lost the drug war.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy, led by former presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, as well as former secretary of state George Shultz and former secretary general of the United Nations, released a study detailing the reasons for this conclusion.
In a New York Times op-ed written Friday, Jimmy Carter refers to the report and notes some surprising statistics:
Cost on state budgets:
In 1980, 10 percent of California’s budget went to higher education and 3 percent to prisons. In 2010, almost 11 percent went to prisons and only 7.5 percent to higher education.
Explosion of prison population:
At the end of 1980, 500,000 people were in prison. At the end of 2009, 2.3 million were incarcerated. Three percent of all American adults are in jail.
Increase in drug consumption:
Global consumption of opiates has increased 34.5 percent, cocaine 27 percent and cannabis 8.5 percent from 1998 to 2008.
In Time magazine, Tim Padgett writes about the bloody war ravaging Mexico:
Our obsession with incarcerating every drug offender we can find at home and eradicating every coca leaf we can find abroad – without helping American addicts get adequate treatment or Latin American farmers find viable alternatives to poppies – simply makes the work of drug interdiction harder, if not futile. We’ve got to find another way, one that costs us less money and fewer lives.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of police, judges and jailers who support legalization, hand delievered a message to President Obama’s drug czar, asking to end the war on drugs.
In the rising chorus of voices lamenting the failure of the war on drugs, what are some of the recommendations on how to move forward? The report calls for decriminalizing drugs, especially cannabis; ending the stigmatization of people who use drugs, but do no harm to others; offering health services; and stopping the arrests of petty drug criminals.
Of course, this is not the first time the war on drugs has been declared lost. In 2007, The Washington Post ran an article titled “The Lost War.” Four years later, the war still rages on.
Update: Rafael Lemaitre, Associate Director for Public Affairs, from the Office of National Drug Control Policy writes to say: “Our nation’s drug problem is a public health threat that we cannot arrest our way out of. That is why our new public health approach to drug control emphasizes education and treatment. In fact today, the Federal Government spends more on drug education and treatment than on law enforcement in the U.S. Drug legalization is inconsistent with a public health approach to drug control because it would make drugs more available in our communities, increase drug addiction, strain our healthcare system, impair school performance among young people, and increase crime.”