Stop the war on drugs: It’s a waste

By Jess Craig / Columnist

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Our country’s obsession with drugs is a waste of time and money. Here are five reasons why what we’re doing now to fight against drugs isn’t working and why all drugs should be legalized in the United States.

1. The argument that illicit drugs cause more deaths is invalid.

 A common counterpoint made in opposition to legalizing all drugs is that illegal drugs are more deadly than legal drugs — alcohol and tobacco. However, according to the CDC, smoking alone causes more deaths than those from illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle accidents, firearm-related incidents and HIV combined. Mortality rates only argue for the legalization of currently illegal drugs and the illegalization of one of the most popularly-used drugs — tobacco.

2. It could lift the United States out of our spiraling debt.

Perhaps the U.S. government OK’d tobacco use because of the amazing tax revenue it brings in each year — an estimated 24 billion dollars, which makes the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, according to its website, the “third largest tax collection agency in the federal government.” As heroin, cocaine, meth and other illegal drugs are just that — illegal — federal and state governments do not benefit from the production or sale of these products. Instead, drug cartels and dealers retain all the profit and have become extremely wealthy in doing so.

3. The war on drugs is failing miserably.

Over the past decade, federal funding for the war on drugs has increased from $9 billion to almost $15 billion. From 2013 to 2014 alone, Obama requested a $900 million increase in the budget to counter international drug trafficking, prevent addiction, treat substance abusers and improve the effectiveness of drug-related law enforcement. 

Despite the ever-expanding drug task forces and increase in funding, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported an increased use of marijuana, heroin and illicit drugs as of January 2014 and no change in the use of methamphetamines, cocaine, hallucinogens or psychotherapeutics. Furthermore, the legalization of tobacco products seems to discourage American consumption, as the same study found a decreased use of tobacco products. Perhaps this is due to the steep tobacco tax or the millions of dollars poured into educating the public of tobacco’s harm (you know those horrific and gory commercials?).

Legalizing other types of drugs would not only allow the federal and state governments to collect tax revenue, but it would alleviate the overcrowding issue in the American prison system.

4. Focus should be on treatment rather than punishment.

Jail time and other legal punishments have proven incapable of reforming inmates convicted of drug charges because, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics,  anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of inmates become repeat offenders. It’s a startlingly high number, and solidifies that the country’s current method of dealing with drug abuse is unsuccessful and unacceptable. The U.S. prison system is not equipped to provide treatment and therapy — which can take decades to work — for drug abusers. However, drug addiction treatment has proven quite successful and focuses on not only stopping the drug habit but improving function in all aspects of life, including family and work. Revenue collected from drug tax could be used to support drug addiction treatment and therapy, since treatment is a more effective way of stopping drug abuse than punishment.

5. Previous drug legalizations have been successful.

In July 2001, Portugal eliminated criminal charges for drug users — drug possession and use is considered a misdemeanor holding the same legal recourse as a parking violation — and rerouted efforts from arrest to treatment.

Although the original motive behind this policy change was to combat the spread of HIV, the decriminalization of drugs from marijuana to heroin brought numerous additional changes. HIV infection rates decreased by 17 percent, drug-related deaths decreased by almost 60 percent and drug use is at an all-time low. Portugal reports the smallest number of drug users of all European countries.

The current tactics being applied to combat American drug use are not working. Rather than continue to stew in our failure, we may as well try something new. Why not the extreme opposite?

Write to Jess at jnc34@pitt.edu

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