The "War on Drugs" is a civil war. We are locking up our children, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers for the “crime” of altering their consciousness in ways that have not been sanctioned by the government. The fact that many drugs of choice are illegal keeps the price artificially high and leads to criminal behavior on the part of some users, who steal or rob to get their hands on the substantial sums of money needed to finance their habit. The War on Drugs has ended or shattered millions of lives, turned otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals, and left our prisons over-crowded.
Perhaps, most importantly, the War on Drugs has clearly been ineffective. Despite massive expenditures of tax dollars and manpower, the War on Drugs has had virtually no impact on drug use in this country. The percentage of Americans using illegal drugs fluctuates a bit from time to time, but has been at epidemic levels for over four decades and counting.
There is no end in sight and the political establishment in Washington is not discussing or even considering ending this massive and inappropriate waste of the taxpayer’s money. It’s time to come up with an exit strategy for the War on Drugs. Here are a couple of ideas for doing so:
For some time now, the efforts of the authorities have been directed primarily at locking up dealers. Users are typically ignored or given a slap on the wrist, if arrested. If we apply the laws of supply and demand to the War on Drugs, we can see that it would be far more effective to reverse that strategy.
The risks involved in dealing drugs are substantial. You not only risk imprisonment, but violence, including the possibility of death, at the hands of rival dealers. Yet the willingness to take these risks is the only barrier to entry for would-be drug dealers. The easy money to be made by dealing drugs lures significant numbers of people into becoming part of the drug trade.
The enormous profits flowing to drug dealers at the top level of a cartel or gang compensates for the risks involved effectively enough that there are plenty of lower level dealers eager and willing to move up to fill the void created when we lock up dealers.
Furthermore, when we lock up dealers, we temporarily reduce the supply of illegal drugs. As a result, there is a spike in the price of drugs, which increases the profits for drug dealers and, therefore the incentive to become a drug dealer. We’ve locked up a lot of drug dealers over the past 40 plus years, the resulting void in the supply side of the drug trade has always been filled very rapidly.
The key to “winning” the War on Drugs is to shift our focus from the supply side to the demand side of the equation. If we began to lock up casual users, particularly if we do so aggressively, we would see a decrease in the demand for drugs.
When you lock up users, you reduce the demand directly. (Assuming they don’t find a way to buy drugs while incarcerated.) More importantly, if enough casual users see enough of their friends and family members locked up for years for simply smoking a joint or popping a pill for which they do not have a prescription, the attraction of recreational drugs will dim. With a lower demand, the price of drugs will drop. There will be a sharp decline in the profits of drug dealers and a substantially reduced incentive to engage in dealing.