Should The United States End Drug Prohibition?

The Federal Government, while trying to protect us from our human nature,
developed harsh anti-drug policies with the hope of eradicating drugs. At
the time, these policies seemed simple enough: we will impose penalties on
those who use substances illegally, we will intercept drugs coming from
other countries while ending all drug cultivation in the States, and we will
even try to prevent foreign governments from growing these substances. The
idea of the Drug Prohibition surely made sense: lower demand of drugs by law
enforcement, and reduce supply through domestic and international means.
Unfortunately, the Drug Prohibition led to heavy costs, both financially and
otherwise, while being ineffective, if not, at times, counterproductive.
Today, we can see the unforeseen costs of the "Drug Prohibition," and we
should consider these costs before expanding the "War on Drugs."
First, among the costs of the "War on Drugs," the most obvious is monetary
cost. The direct cost of purchasing drugs for private use is $100 billion a
year. The federal government spends at least $10 billion a year on drug
enforcement programs and spends many billions more on drug-related crimes
and punishment. The estimated cost to the United States for the "War on
Drugs" is $200 billion a year or an outstanding $770 per person per year,
and that figure does not include the money spent by state and local
government in this "war" (Evans and Berent, eds. xvii).
The second cost of this "war" is something economist like to call
opportunity costs. Here, we have two resources which are limited: prison
cells and law enforcement. When more drug crimes take up law enforcement\'s
time and when more drug criminals take up cells, less ability to fight other
crime exists. This becomes significant when an estimated 35-40 million
Americans use drugs per year. In 1994, law enforcement arrested some
750,000 people on drug charges, and of those 750,000, 600,000 were charged
merely with possession. Sixty percent of the prison population are drug
offenders (Wink). The police, therefore, most work to find these 35 million
"criminals," thereby exhausting their resources. Also, in major urban
centers, the number of drug offences brought to trial are outstanding. For
example, in Washington in 1994, 52% of all indictments were drug related as
opposed to 13% in 1981 (Evans and Berent, eds. 21). All aspects of our
legal system are being exhausted on drugs when it could be used more
effectively on other felonies or focused on preventing children from buying
drugs.
Another two legal aspects of Drug Prohibition are interesting since they
show how the "Prohibition" is not only ineffective, but also
counterproductive. The first of which is the fact that the illegality of
drugs leads to huge profits for drug dealers and traffickers. Ironically,
the Drug Prohibition benefits most the drug traffickers and dealers as
prices are pushed well above cost (Evans and Berent, eds. 22). The second
aspect of the "Drug Prohibition" that undermines law enforcement is the need
for drug users to commit personal property crimes. One-third of the people
arrested for burglary and robbery said that they stole only to support their
habit, and about 75% of personal property crimes were committed by drug
abusers. Studies also suggest that these people, when placed on outpatient
drug therapy or sold drugs at a lower price commit much less crime (Duke).
Even the DEA admits that, "Drug use was common among inmates serving time
for robbery, burglary, and drug offenses" ("Crime, Violence").
Drug Prohibition has been very costly, detrimental to our relations with
other countries, and harmful to users and society alike. All this while
trying to battle an enemy who is not as dangerous as it is currently
believed by most of the American public. The unpleasantries of the history
of Drug Prohibition also show us how the public has been mislead through
Prohibition. Many of these disagreeable acts were not circumstances of Drug
Prohibition, rather goals of it, whether it was understood or not.
The United States\' image in Latin America has been precarious nearly from
its birth. The image of the American intent on dominating the New World
plays in the minds of our neighbors. Recently, though, the situation is
interesting since the countries involved are growing less and less
complacent to deal with the losses of sovereignty that they are incurring.
Drug Prohibition not only plays out on the American stage, but is a focal
point of US relations with the countries of Latin America. So, as each of
these countries has to pay the costs of Yankee Imperialism, the tension
between neighbors is increasing.
The first of the tensions comes from Colombia.