War on Drugs Gets Wasted

In the 1920s, alcohol was banned from the United States in an attempt to reduce crime, poverty and improve the overall living conditions in the United States. As a result of the ban, alcohol consumption skyrocketed, organized crime rates went through the roof and severe corruption took root in law enforcement agencies. This prohibition of alcohol was, without a doubt, a failed policy that was not only incredibly ineffective, but was also detrimental to its goal.

One would think that after almost a century of studying the progression of prohibition in history books, people in the United States would learn their lesson about prohibiting substances. Unfortunately we haven’t. For the better part of recent history, the U.S. has waged another prohibition campaign called the “War on Drugs.” The result has been almost identical to, if not worse than, what happened in the 1920s during Prohibition: an increase in organized violent crime accompanied by corruption on a global scale.

Just like in the 1920s campaign against alcohol, the prohibition campaign against drugs is a failed cause that ultimately leaves the entire world, on a security level, an economic level, and a moral level, worse off.

It seems that most, although not all, proponents of the war on drugs are conservative, so it is appropriate to identify first how our security as a nation, and world, is ultimately threatened by the war on drugs. Just as in the 1920s, this current prohibition has spurred organized crime and ruthless gangs to surface. These groups posed a threat to the country they occupy .

While most of these ruthless drug cartels reside in a handful of countries outside of America, there is always the possibility that in future years they will spread here at home as well. In fact, research trends indicate they will.

The “New York Times” reports that markets have begun to expand away from traditional markets like Iran and Columbia to places that have been in the past more or less void of drug problems such as China or Indonesia. The market has even spread to western nations such as the Netherlands and Britain; it has also taken root in America’s neighboring countries, Mexico and Canada. It is naive to think the market will not take a larger grip in America as well. That means all the repercussions that come along with the drug market — organized crime, corruption, increasing violence – will be right here in America.

As if that is not enough, the “War on Drugs” also funds terrorist organizations that are anti-American, to put it lightly. Opium’s inflated value, a result of prohibition, has given the Taliban a substantial source of income to fund its battle against American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and more critically, it allows them to purchase expensive weaponry each year.

Then there is the issue of increasing corruption in countries that are riddled with underground drug markets. Now, as in the 1920s, the revenue accumulated from the lucrative narcotics trade funds the bribes that corrupt the morality of governments in places like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea Bissau. The most alarming example of a corrupted government is the Afghani regime under Hamid Karzai, a government propped up by NATO itself. When NATO and the government it props up become corrupt due to a prohibition on drugs, there can be no question that the “War on Drugs” is a failed policy.

Finally, there is the economic strain the “War on Drugs” causes and the potential economic boom that legalization is capable of jumpstarting. It is common sense that whenever a war is being waged, whether it is a literal war or a figurative one, money needs to be invested. Thus, this whole “War on Drugs” is being funded by taxpayer dollars. The problem compounds itself because prohibition funds terrorist organizations that we fight in a completely separate war, hence the “War on Terror.” Thus, the “War on Drugs” eats up more tax dollars than people think, because it funds the very organizations that tax-payers are fighting to contain. This is just on an international level.

On a local level, the situation is not any better. According to Drugwarfacts.org, there were over 1.5 million arrests on charges of drug possession or drug trafficking – almost half of the 1.5 million based on marijuana possession alone. Why is this a problem? The average cost to incarcerate an inmate is $49,000 taxpayer dollars a year. If you do the math, more than 73 billion tax-payer dollars are wasted due to the prohibition of drugs in this country alone.

The economic situation concerning drugs takes a complete 180-degree turn when considering decriminalization. If the drug war ends, whatever money we spend on fighting this “War on Drugs” goes right back into taxpayer pockets. What about the money we are spending on incarcerating those who sell or have possession of drugs? Right back into taxpayers’ pockets. What about the money we end up spending on the “War on Terror” because of funding the “War on Drugs” provides terrorists? Right back into taxpayers’ pockets.

It doesn’t stop there. Essentially what happens is that an entire new market is created which helps create jobs and new sources of revenue. The best part is that because drugs can cause health issues, the government can impose a heavy tax, like cigarette taxes, on them, which will provide even more capital. Where does all this money go? Right back into the taxpayers’ pockets.

Common sense tells us the “War on Drugs” is a detriment to society. Outdated notions and morals tell us otherwise. It is time we follow common sense and actually begin to help the world. Stop the “War on Drugs”.

Neil Thakore is a second-year political science major. He can be reached at nthakore@uci.edu.