Monday, June 2, 2014

COMMENTARY: Let's end America's War on Drugs


KANSAS CITY, KAN. ----- Last week, President Obama announced that it was his intention to bring home all of America's military personnel from Afghanistan by 2016.

The year 2016 would mark the 15th anniversary of military combat in Afghanistan, which is America's longest military conflict ever.

It's time to end another long, costly war: America's War on Drugs.

Now, let me say this as someone who feels drugs should be legal. It's still a bad idea to do drugs. Also, if you drive a vehicle when high, you should face the same punishments as drunk drivers do.

I don't endorse drug use, nor do I want to use drugs. Drug addiction is a problem in this country.

But the Drug War doesn't solve that problem and only creates more.

1. It's expensive and not cost-effective. 

Since President Nixon launched the War on Drugs in 1971, all levels of government have spent over $1 trillion in drug war costs. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, government spends $51 billion annually when you combine drug enforcement programs and prison costs. To put it in perspective: Over $1,700 is spent each second in drug war-related costs.

Along with the expenses, statistics show the War on Drugs simply isn't working. In 2012, 9.2 percent of the population in America used an illegal drug. That's up from 8.3 percent in 2002. Costs to enforce the drug war are increasing, but so are the number of people taking drugs. That's not a good combination.

In the area of prison costs, over 1.5 million people were arrested on non-violent drug charges in 2012. The amount of marijuana arrests were a staggering 749,825. The State of Kansas alone spends over $42 million in keeping non-violent drug offenders behind bars. Rather than spend millions of dollars in taxes to build or renovate prisons, how about limiting prison space to the true thugs and criminals out there who have ruined another person's life rather than just their own?

2. Rehabilitation programs are more likely to work than prison. 

In a 1994 study conducted by the RAND Corporation, it was proven that treatment programs are seven times more cost effective compared to law enforcement in reducing cocaine consumption in the United States by one percent.

With the money we save from drug war costs, we could use some of it to fund drug counseling programs. Or, better yet, we could use some of the tax revenue from legalized drugs to fund similar programs.

3. Local violent crime - and international crime - would drop

There is a domino effect to the prohibition of drugs. Prohibiting drugs creates a black market for drug cartels to make a handsome profit off addictive substances. As libertarian economist Milton Friedman once said: “See, if you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel. That's literally true.”

Homicides happen as gangs and cartels protect their drug-dealing territories. This is happening in Chicago and other cities with high crime numbers. It even happens in smaller cities like the Kansas City metro area. Burglaries happen as some addicts look to keep funding their bad habits.

To say violent crime would go completely away would be lying. There is no magic bullet when it comes to ending violence. However, ending the War on Drugs would be a significant step in curbing street violence in inner-cities across America.

Internationally, over 70,000 Mexicans have been killed in the past decade as a result of the Mexican Drug War, which involves the United States since a large amount of those drugs are trafficked in the United States. Ending our war on drugs would help our neighbors to the south and the border cities where violence happens daily.

4. Ending the War on Drugs would prevent police-related tragedies

If you didn't see this horrible story out of Atlanta, Georgia, I highly recommend you read it. To keep it short: A toddler was wounded by a flash grenade during a drug bust. Now, I'm not going to be quick to bash police here. They were doing their jobs and I know police officers did not intend to hurt the child. But more and more of these stories are happening now. Should cops be put in a position to critically injure an innocent child or individual just because someone is involved with drugs? If there's a hostage situation, you could make that argument. But drugs?

5. Questions of morality

Should thousands of people be arrested for bad habits? Should families be broken up as a result of someone who has an addiction? Why do we treat alcohol addicts and drug addicts so differently? Do drug addicts really deserve to share the same prison with child molesters, murderers, rapists and those individuals who have been involved in other violence? Is it worth the costs financially and socially? Twenty-five percent of the world's prison population is right here in America. And the War on Drugs is a big catalyst in that.

Those are questions drug warriors need to answer.

Now, unlike many who propose grand ideas, I will admit that there flaws to this. Drug addiction would increase if access to drugs is easier. I will not argue that and it would probably happen. The Black Market would not fade away overnight, as proven by Colorado's marijuana experiment.

But there are more pros than cons in ending the War on Drugs - and there are more cons than pros in keeping this war going.

Let's not spend $51 billion annually in fighting this war. Instead, let's generate billions of dollars in revenue nationwide and use some of that money for drug counseling programs and education programs in school.

Rather than spend millions on prisons, let local and state governments spend millions on repairing streets, building schools and other "quality of life" programs that would bring businesses here.

Let law enforcement take care of the true degenerate criminals in our country, rather than those people who are not as perfect as we want them to be. Like alcohol abuse, drug addiction should be considered a disease instead of a criminal act.

Let's end this war, too.