Appraising the drug war

by Rob Tiller

   The horrendous waste from the war on drugs is summarized by Nicholas Kristof in today’s NY Times.  With annual spending to enforce prohibition at $44 billion, we have not lessened drug use.  We have, however, increased the number of people in prison for drug offenses from 41,000 in 1980 to 500,000 today.  We’ve created the incentives for enormous criminal enterprises that threaten the stability of entire nations, including Mexico and Afghanistan.   

   Kristof suggests that we experiment having the states at their option legalize marijuana, sell it in pharmacies, and measure the effects on crime and rates of drug use.  This seems reasonable.  An incremental approach, testing the social policy by geography and by substance, might gradually overcome the fears and foggy thinking surrounding this issue.

   Glad as I am to see a few words on this enormous problem in the Times, I’m sorry to see the opinion piece headlined “Drugs Won the War.”  That isn’t the case.  Although there are losers in the drug war, there really are no winners.  It’s confusing, if not misleading, to suggest that the drugs themselves were fighters.