The War On Drugs: A Zillion Dollar Reality Check
Alcohol prohibition eighty-some years ago criminalized a social and health problem, handing an inexpugnable market to the underworld. Think of it in market terms. Market effects turned isolated gangs to international syndication, increasing their reach and financial sophistication. Prohibition was unworkable when the world was so much simpler, when the whole population was around two billion. Prohibition absolutely failed to remedy alcohol abuse and worse yet gave us the modern Mafias.
It is a lesson we have failed to learn. Like alcohol and tobacco, we should license noxious drugs to better control that market too. Alcohol and tobacco are in essence cheap agricultural products. The market tolerates the high markup of taxation, and evasion is rare. Illegal drugs are likewise cheap products, but in their case the markup goes to the traffickers. Hundreds (yes $100s plural) of billions of dollars involved and it is all going the wrong direction. Not only the income from drugs, but the hundreds of billions wasted on failed enforcement. Lose and lose.
Drug prohibition is a multi-billion dollar subsidy to our worst enemies; monsters far worse than the Mafias created by alcohol prohibition. And in a sort of collateral damage from the War on Drugs, millions of young people learn their values in gangs and prisons. The horrific mass murders at Tamaulipas in Mexico are just a harbinger of things to come, as this lawless economy and its savage culture metastasize through children and grandchildren who will know nothing else.
The billions going to the terrorists and thugs is an international disaster for democracy, human rights, government transparency, and a long negative list of unintended consequences. As for the friendly governments of the producing and transit countries, injecting DEA money into their oft corrupt institutions must be counterproductive. A corrupt government milks any cow, and the DEA is just part of the livestock.
Dope is already so completely available on the street; we have little reason to think legalization would increase net use and addiction rates. If you want it you can find it. And that ready availability on the street is proof that prohibition does not work. It is perfectly silly to reply that drugs are bad and should not be legal. Of course they are bad. But it does not follow that prohibition is any kind of useful solution.
We should stop spending billions on failed persecution and start collecting high taxes. To repeat, drugs should be licensed, controlled, and taxed like alcohol. This enormous double budget windfall should be spent on the causes of drug abuse. We need education, health, jobs, prison reform and community programs. That rational policy would have positive societal effects, free the judiciary, military and police to deal with real priorities, and strip hundreds of billions of dollars from gangs and terrorists.
The War on Drugs is the most pernicious stupidity to be found in US foreign policy.