The International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP), a nonprofit organization of scientists, health care practitioners, and academics based in Canada and Britain, released a report this week that found that when government cracks down on the drug trade the result is an increase in violence. The group reviewed over 300 international studies from the last 20 twenty years. 87 percent of the studies reviewed show a direct correlation between intensified drug law enforcement and drug market violence.
Of course, this should come as no surprise since even without scientific literature anyone can point to examples from history. The largest lesson to be learned from the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s was that when government bans a demanded commodity consumers will find a way to get it and suppliers will find a way to supply it – unfortunately more often than not through the use of violence. Thus, prohibition was a boom to organized crime in the 1920s as its profits soared and crime rates rose. Similarly, the Drug War in the United States has had few if any victories in regards to reducing drug use and violence on our streets continues to be its biggest shortcoming. Finally, the current Drug War in Mexico has been a catastrophe for that country. There have been massive increases in gun violence, beheadings, and kidnappings since Felipe Calderon started the crusade. Close to 23,000 deaths are attributed to the intensified drug law enforcement. Worst yet, Mexico’s Drug War no longer threatens to spill over into our country, it is already here.
But, of course the drug warrior class in America, whose very livelihood relies on perpetuating the Drug War, denies the findings of the report support calls for ending drug prohibition. Former drug czar, John Walters, said that increases in violence after law enforcement crackdowns usually only affect criminals and thus might be in a strange way a reflection of success for anti-drug efforts. But, this ignores the fact that many who die are innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of a turf battle. In Mexico, a U.S. Embassy family, police, soldiers, politicians, and journalists have been killed by drug violence. Besides, even if only the criminals are dying from shootouts on our streets, who wants that kind of atmosphere and the inherent threats to innocent people it presents in their neighborhood?
Then, there is the current drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, whose reaction to the report was "I don't know of any reason that legalizing something that essentially is bad for you would make it better, from a fiscal standpoint or a public health stand point or a public safety standpoint". Any reasonable person should be incredulous at the drug czar’s remark. How can he believe that in the face of this study and obvious historical examples of drug prohibition causing violence.
Now, we can do what Czar Kerlikowske would like and stay the course on the Drug War. That means we will continue to spend $33 billion a year to fight an unwinnable war. And we will continue to treat folks with severe drug abuse problems like criminals instead of allowing them to get the help they need to become productive citizens. Lastly, we will continue to cause violence on our streets by keeping something demanded illegal which raises its costs thus attracting the criminal elements to enter the market with deadly force in seeking high profits.
There is a better way. Decriminalize drugs and drop the law enforcement savings into treatment programs for those that really need it. Private advertisers should proclaim the dangers of drug abuse in the same way it was proclaimed about cigarette smoking. Finally, abolish the drug czar position altogether since its occupants are nothing more than advocates for the police state and violence on our streets. Given the findings of the ICSDP report and what we can observe from historical examples, we seem to have no other choice.