Count the Costs

This is outstanding.

Press Release

Being launched today by NGOs from around the world as a side event of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna: The War on Drugs – Count the Costs.

Speakers will outline the many costs of the war on drugs, and the aims of the campaign, to an audience of international policy makers, NGO representatives, and media. See the new project website here: for more details

The War on Drugs: Count the Costs campaign will bring together interested parties from around the world, including NGOs, policy makers and others whose work is negatively impacted by international drug enforcement. Together they will call on governments and international agencies to meaningfully evaluate the unintended consequences of the war on drugs and explore evidence-based alternatives.

This is something I’ve been interested in, and talking about, for years, and, if I ever get time to do it, is the subject of the book I’m writing: Prohibition Isn’t Free (which is also the name of our Foundation).

Of course, the prohibitionists hate talking about the costs. They want the discussion to be limited to:

  • Prohibition: x amount of drug harm
  • Legalization: >x amount of drug harm

Not only is that comparison unsustainable, it most importantly ignores all the costs of prohibition.

Nice to see a global effort on this topic.

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17 Responses to Count the Costs

  1. Gart says:

    I wish people stop using “unintende­d consequenc­es” every time they want to refer to or call the attention to the catastroph­ic consequenc­es of prohibitio­n and the so-called War on Drugs (another misnomer if there is one: it is not a war on drugs, it is war on people.)

    Military sanitisers­, obfuscating management consultant­s , PR apologists and Prohibitio­n ideologues can pat each other on their shoulders, but the fact is that there is not such thing as “unintende­d consequenc­es” when it comes to implementi­ng and enforcing the policies associated to the prohibitio­n regime.

    To think so is equivalent to accept that one can explain away the horror and destructio­n of a war by resorting to the concept of “collatera­l damages”. They are not unintended and they are not collateral, they are the INEVITABLE AND FORESEEABL­E consequences of waging war.

    Gart Valenc

    • Pete says:

      Give me a break, Gart. Someone’s calling attention to the problem and and trying to finally hold the feet of governments around the world to the fire, and you’re pissed off?

      Are you really that much conspiracy-minded that you believe that all of the costs of the drug war were INTENDED? Of course, they are inevitable and foreseeable. That doesn’t mean that they are INTENDED.

      One of the unintended costs of the drug war is that there is police corruption. Are you saying that people got together and said “Let’s have a drug war, because we want police to be corrupt.”?

      Some of the costs of the drug war (attacks on civil liberties, etc.) may have been intended by some, but not by the general population that has supported prohibition, and there still are tons of unintended costs beyond those.

      Unintended does NOT mean unforeseeable.

      Talk to Eric Sterling. He was one of the architects of the 1986 drug laws that resulted in so much racial destruction, and now he is a prime drug policy reformer. Sure, he’ll tell you that if they had taken the time to analyze instead of rushing ahead with the bill, that these problems could have been foreseen. But there was no sense, with that particular bill, of INTENDING to cause mass racial disparities.

      Unintended consequences doesn’t make them good, or right, or excusable.

      But it is the proper word for that site to use.

      • Gart says:


        You are missing the point. First of all, if you log onto my blog you will see that I am totally in favour of making a cost-benefit analysis of the war on drugs. I am also supporting signing the Vienna Declaration and the IDPC call for carrying Impact Assessments on drug policies. So, I’m not, as you put it, pissed off. Just the opposite, I thoroughly support the campaign, as my comment to the Count The Costs blog clearly shows:

        «I do celebrate your campaign calling for a cost-benefit analysis of the current drug prohibition regime and its alternatives. It will help people understand that a regime seeking to legalise and regulate the production, distribution and consumption of drugs CANNOT be as destructive and corrosive — socially, economically and politically speaking — as the current prohibition regime is. Even those who believe that legalisation and regulation of drugs is evil must accept that it is the lesser of two evils.»

        Secondly, you make the case for me when you state: «Of course, they are inevitable and foreseeable. That doesn’t mean that they are INTENDED.» And your example of police corruption exemplifies the problem very well, but for the wrong reason. Let me put it this way. If you drop a bomb in a school with the intent to kill the teacher, but in the process you kill all the students in the school, too, you cannot say, oops! I didn’t intend to kill the students. The fact that you know in advance that that will be the most likely result, make it invalid your excuse that it was unintended. More to the point, it obscures the fact that the act (dropping the bomb) is nothing but a criminal act, intended or not. And that’s the point I’m trying to make: that by alluding to the “law of unintended consequences” it seems as if one is giving prohibitions and war-on-drug-mongers an excuse for pursuing their murderous and criminal policies. Thank you for your war efforts, we know you didn’t intend to inflict so much damage!

        Gart Valenc

      • Pete says:

        Foreseeable does not mean foreseen.

        Calling something “unintended consequences” doesn’t let anyone off the hook. It says “not only were you wrong, but you were stupid.”

      • Pete says:

        You’re welcome.

  2. yang says:

    Things are certainly looking better day by day. This just from UK:

    Policy debate about legalization, notice that the title is already framed as “Drugs: Time to legalize?”, the legalization side has a former MP and a former chief constable and the criminalization side has only a religious guy that was sacked from his ACMD post for some distasteful opinions about homosexuality and pedophilia. Perhaps I’m too hopeful but this(which seems like a total set-up and for the side of the good guys this time) coupled with the recent announcement about the All Party Group on Drug Reform that will be working with the Beckley Foundation is making me think that the brits are warming up the public for drug reform.

  3. kaptinemo says:

    ‘Unintended consequences’? I don’t believe in ‘coincidences’, and tend to think that drug prohibition is a subconscious desire for power over those whom you hate.

    But, for the majority of the benighted prohibs it’s usually a surprise to the idiots who came up with the particular substance prohibition that their cloud-cuckooland thinking didn’t manifest in reality. There’s very few prohibs who have given much thought at all to those consequences, and those who have are perhaps the worst of the lot.

    Anyone else with three brain cells to click together can take a look at history and see that prohibition regimes, even when backed by a death penalty (think Singapore and China) are ultimately ineffectual. But given the anti-intellectual tendencies within this society, just taking the time to do the research might mark you as a ‘deviant’.

  4. kaptinemo says:

    And as to counting the costs, well, in monetary terms, those costs when finally calculated will turn out to be several hundred billion dollars above the stated ones on national budgets, after all the hidden subsidiary costs are exposed.

    That alone, in these tight times, should be enough to get the debate in drug prohibition practicing countries started as to whether we can afford this abomination any longer.

  5. Servetus says:

    I remember in one Congressional hearing Director Kerlikowske was unable to cite any benchmarks that could be used to determine the efficacy of drug enforcement. He’s probably being willfully ignorant, but a total-costs analysis of the drug war would provide the dreaded benchmarks that prohibitionists seem to fear so much.

    I’ve always wanted to see total drug war monetary costs compared with the total value of drug contraband on the black market. If it’s a 10:1 ratio, that’s an extremely poor showing for Kerlikowske and his minions. In fact, it’s a poor showing if the ratio is 1:1. It becomes even poorer when only 10-percent of the total drug traffic is allegedly stopped by law enforcement.

    Unfortunately, we can’t be certain of many of the numbers published by the ONDCP. The prohibitionists exaggerate or misrepresent the amount of drug activity and drug values to justify their existence, and that of the drug war, up until it becomes inconvenient to do so. Case in point would be the amount of money and drugs the ONDCP claims is associated with Mexican cartel activity, which in DEA land changes with the direction of the wind. Thus the need to produce an objective set of numbers that doesn’t rely upon faulty prohibitionist data.

  6. allan420 says:

    from our President, 2 years ago:

    Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources, it is also about protecting free and open inquiry,” Obama said. “It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient especially when it’s inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.

    We have to hold his feet to the fire on that.

  7. allan420 says:

    that is Pres-elect Obama and the quote is from Dec 17, 2008

  8. BruceM says:

    Leave it to the UN to waste time talking about something that will never change, no matter what. Frivolous “protect the precious children” assertions trump all facts and reality-based arguments for changing something.

  9. Pete says:

    BruceM, this post is about the NGO’s who are protesting the UN’s approach to drug policy. What is your comment referring to?

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