It costs more than the drugs
by Paul Phillips
What exactly is Barack Obama’s position of the legalisation of drugs?
In 2001 he said the war on drugs was a total failure. “We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws. We need to rethink how we’re operating the drug war.” Of course that was before he even ran for the Democratic nomination, let alone for President.
By 2012 he was flatly rejecting legalisation as any kind of answer. That was when he wanted a second term as President.
And in 2015, his Presidency approaching its end, he said “We should follow the science not the ideology” in supporting medicinal use of marijuana.
His position is as confusing as the ‘war’ itself.
Is it a war on drug users; or on dealers; or is it the very real war that is sometimes fought with the private armies of unimaginably wealthy drug lords in Columbia or Mexico and other countries?
It is scarcely believable that civilisation has broken down so badly in Mexico that people are being beheaded and their bodies (and heads) left in the street as a warning to others. This is a frequent horror that does not spare children. Live skinnings are also reported.
What level of barbarity have we reached where the very idea of removing the skin of a living, breathing being even enters the mind?
Police and politicians are powerless – the police, in fact, barely function. When they do, they are mercilessly executed. Little wonder that many of them now work for the drug cartels. A country which cannot even police its own streets is a country with no hope whatsoever.
The truth about the War On Drugs is that it has been lost, and that there is no hope, ever, of winning it.
If it is a war on drug users, it was lost before it began; people want what people want.
If it is a war on drug dealers, the ever-rising prison population in America tells you that even the prospect of life imprisonment is no impediment to succeeding generations of ambitious wannabees.
If it is a war on the drug cartels – as many wrongly believe it to be – the past 40 years has demonstrated its futility. The incredible amount of money swilling around the globe from the proceeds of drug manufacture has financed private armies bigger than those of their host countries, and home fortresses for the cartel bosses that would repel anything but a drone attack.
These people are more powerful than the democratically elected governments of the countries in which they operate. They have more money and set absolutely no limits on what they will do to protect their interests – an intimidating cocktail of torture, murder and political assassination.
When Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs 40-odd years ago the budget was around $80m. In 2010 it was officially £15bn, but – when state and local government expenditure is added in, not to mention the cost of the imprisoned population – the cost is closer to $40bn. In the UK, it is estimated we spend £14bn policing drugs.
Putting all moral arguments to one side, at today’s prices, Nixon’s original $80m would now be $440m. That means that the real cost to the American taxpayer, at $40bn, has increased 100 times in real terms. And for what? America, with 5% of the world’s population has 25% of the world’s prison population. Half of these 6m prisoners are convicted of drug-related crimes.
In the meantime, drug consumption has increased and the drug cartels have become richer and more powerful.
At the same time, the drugs themselves have become more powerful and consequently more dangerous, and are adulterated with disgusting and sometimes fatal additives.
There is now no moral or economic argument against legalisation. Spending one trillion dollars (the cumulative cost over 40 years) on a losing battle is utterly indefensible.
At a stroke, by owning the manufacture and sales, society can control quality and distribution, benefit from tax revenues, eradicate the criminal element within and decimate and hasten the decline of the drug cartels. A side benefit would be that we could start spending the ‘war on drugs’ budget on what Nixon originally intended it for, which was (surprisingly) mostly about treating addicts and rehabilitating them.
If you keep your eyes and ears – and your mind – open, you will see in the coming months and years that this is, finally, an idea whose time is coming. If you want to fight against it, start marshalling your arguments now. They had better be good: the moral and economic facts are stacking up overwhelmingly against you.
The House I Live In (BBC iPlayer)
U.S. Inflation calculator.com
American prison population