Drug War Not Working

The New York Times editorial today: Not Winning the War on Drugs

John Walters, the White House drug czar, declared earlier this year that ‹courageous and effectiveŠ counternarcotics efforts in Colombia and Mexico ‹are disrupting the production and flow of cocaine.Š
This enthusiasm rests on a very selective reading of the data. Another look suggests that despite the billions of dollars the United States has spent battling the cartels, it has hardly made a dent in the cocaine trade.

It’s a pretty good editorial for the New York Times — certainly not as outright anti-prohibition as we’d like, but a strong statement against supply side efforts and pushing for emphasis on treatment instead of enforcement.

All this suggests serious problems with a strategy that focuses overwhelmingly on disrupting the supply of drugs while doing far too little to curb domestic demand. […]
Above all, the next administration must put much more effort into curbing demand Ö spending more on treating drug addicts and less on putting them in jail. Drug courts, which sentence users to treatment, still deal only with a small minority of drug cases and should be vastly expanded. Drug-treatment programs for imprisoned drug abusers, especially juvenile offenders, must also be expanded.
Over all, drug abuse must be seen more as a public health concern and not primarily a law enforcement problem. Until demand is curbed at home, there is no chance of winning the war on drugs.

Of course, they had to add that little end tag ‘winning the war on drugs’ like they’re still dreaming that it can be done without ending it.
And there was the one strange concession to drug war victory:

The counternarcotics effort has produced some successes. Marijuana use in the United States has declined since 2002, the earliest year for which the government has comparable data.

Ah, yes. The reduction of non-problematic use of marijuana. Success. That’s worth all the dollars spent and lives lost, right?
In the Huffington Post, Robert Creamer writes that Americans Can’t Allow McCain to Continue Bush’s Failed Policies in the “War on Drugs”

Though the failures of the “War on Drugs” are more silent and insidious than his dramatic failures in the Middle East, the two have much in common. Both have involved an over-reliance on, and often reckless use of, military force to solve problems for which military power is not appropriate. And both result in massive diversions of attention and energy from the real source of a problem into “crusades” that actually made matters worse.

He also talks about the counterproductive efforts in Colombia

The stupidity of the fumigation policy became clear when we met with hundreds of local people who had assembled in a community center in Putumayo. We heard story after story of legitimate crops being killed by indiscriminate aerial fumigation. We talked to dozens of farmers who said they grew coca because it was the only way to make any money. We talked to many local people who told us that if the crops were fumigated, they would simply move further into the jungle and tear down more rainforest.

… and the mess of our reliance on incarceration…

The price of these policies to our broader society has been breathtaking. The entire correctional system had about 550,000 inmates in 1985. Today, it has 2.6 million– mostly because of mandatory minimums and major limitations on the use of parole at both the state and federal level.
The cost of the system has gone from $9 billion a year in 1985 to $60 billion a year today.
The prison system doesn’t focus on rehabilitation or education, either. It basically warehouses inmates and in many cases makes them more inclined to commit real crimes. Today the recidivism rate is 67%. Two-thirds of inmates will return to prison after being released.

These are both good pieces. They both suggest a shifting of prohibition from supply-side focus to demand-side focus, with an emphasis on treatment.
Of course, personally, I believe that the correct approach is an elimination of prohibition (and its problems) and a separate, but important, effort to deal with problem drug use, involving education and treatment.
But I also understand that the notion of shifting, rather than eliminating, can be more palatable to some, and it’s better than nothing.

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