Written by John Lounsbury
By many accounts the war on drugs (WOD) has been a failure. The statistics are available here. The U.S. spends $51 billion annually on WOD. There are 1.3 million arrests each year in the U.S. for possession vs. about 363,000 arrests for other drug related offenses. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world ( 1 of every 111 adults). And yet, drug use has not been significantly affected.
If the war on drugs has not been effective in the addiction rate, why has it continued? For the very simple reason that it is proifitable. The most obvious reason is someone must be making money on it. Of course drug cartels and the distribution system dealers are making money, and the prison system, which is largely a privatized industry today in the U.S., is making money. It also is profitable for the banks and other intermediaries that are (illegally) involved in money laundering. But the reason many are not as aware of is that police departments and the communities they serve have turned the WOD into a profit center. The profits are derived from property seizures whenever there can be proved, and in many cases merely suspected, association with drugs by the person whose property is seized. The militarization of police departments is an enabler of this property seizure scheme. See the video below which contains the comments of Prof. Peter Kraska, College of Justice and Safety, Eastern Kentucky University which were made at a conference sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute, November 2015 in New Orleans.
Some Background on the Future of Drug Use
The future trends in drug abuse can be suggested by drug usage by teens. While alcohol and nicotine usage has been declining, prescription drug abuse and illicit drug usage has been increasing as recently as 2014 (infographic and video below). The report for 2015 says that “long term decline in illicit drug use, prescription opioid abuse, cigarette and alcohol use among the nation’s youth“. This latest report is in conflict with the data for illicit drugs in the second panel of the infographic below. The difference is most likely a rising use of marijuana noit being included in the 2015 report.
The trends of substance use among teens indicates a continuing reduction of tobacco and alcohol use going forward as these teens become adults, but illicit drug use does not have such favorable trends.
Americans learned over about 12 years of alcohol prohibition that illegalization of a habit-forming chemical is not an effective process. How long will it take to learn the same about drugs? The WOD is now 45 years old and has had no measureable impact except the expenditure of well over $1.2 trillion.