What costs more: Global Natural Disasters or America's War on Drugs?
Well...go on... take a guess.
You know the answer but it seems so absurd. It's hard to say it.
That's because it is a study in absurdity.
The world community spent $30 billion for global disasters in 2007.
While losses soared in 2007, the figure was far short of the $99 billion Munich Re recorded in 2005 - when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans.
The world's second-largest reinsurer put total economic losses this year - which includes losses not covered by insurance - from natural disasters at $75 billion - a 50 percent increase from last year's $50 billion, but far below the 2005 figure of $220 billion.
The company said that, in all, 950 natural disasters were recorded this year - up from 850 last year, and the highest figure since the company started keeping systematic records in 1974.
That $30 billion represents what was actually covered and paid for. It appears there was another $45 billion in assessed damage that wasn't paid for.
That article cites global warming as a very real factor in all this and indicates this will all only get worse.
Now consider this: America spends $50 billion a year on it's "war on drugs" alone, $500 billion since the 1970's.
All for nothing.
Paul Armentano, of NORML, writes in Ending America's Domestic Quagmire, that America spends $50 billion a year now on you-know-what.
America now spends nearly $50 billion dollars per year targeting, prosecuting, and incarcerating illicit-drug users. As a result, the population of illicit-drug offenders now behind bars is greater than the entire U.S. prison population in 1980. Since the mid 1990s, drug offenders have accounted for nearly 50 percent of the total federal prison population growth and some 40 percent of all state prison population growth. For marijuana alone, law enforcement currently spends between $ 7 billion and $ 10 billion dollars annually targeting users -- primarily low-level offenders -- and taxpayers spend more than $ 1 billion annually to incarcerate them.
And a recent journalistic tour de force in Rolling Stone magazine cites "After Thirty-Five Years and $500 Billion, Drugs Are as Cheap and Plentiful as Ever: An Anatomy of a Failure."
Even by conservative estimates, the War on Drugs now costs the United States $50 billion each year and has overcrowded prisons to the breaking point - all with little discernible impact on the drug trade. A report by the Government Accountability Office released at the end of September estimated that ninety percent of the cocaine moving into the United States now arrives through Mexico, up from sixty-six percent in 2000. Even Walters acknowledges that for all of the efforts the Bush administration has devoted to overseas drug enforcement, the price of cocaine has dropped while its purity has risen. More than forty percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, yet the government continues to target pot smokers.
America wasted more money arresting people and putting them in prison than the world community spent trying to clean up and deal with 950 identified natural disasters.
Money spent vigorously making people's lives more difficult, rather than spent on making people's lives LESS difficult.
More from the Rolling Stone article, which talks at length about the failure of the War on Drugs military-style cocaine interdiction:
Overseas military efforts were the least effective way to decrease drug use, and imprisoning addicts was prohibitively expensive. The only cost-effective way to put a dent in the market, it turned out, was drug treatment. "It's not a magic bullet," says Reuter, the RAND scholar who helped supervise the study, "but it works." The study ultimately ushered RAND, this vaguely creepy Cold War relic, into a position as the permanent, pragmatic left wing of American drug policy, the most consistent force for innovating and reinventing our national conception of the War on Drugs.
When Everingham's team looked more closely at drug treatment, they found that thirteen percent of hardcore cocaine users who receive help substantially reduced their use or kicked the habit completely. They also found that a larger and larger portion of illegal drugs in the U.S. were being used by a comparatively small group of hardcore addicts. There was, the study concluded, a fundamental imbalance: The crack epidemic was basically a domestic problem, but we had been fighting it more aggressively overseas. "What we began to realize," says Jonathan Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studied drug policy for RAND, "was that even if you only get a percentage of this small group of heavy drug users to abstain forever, it's still a really great deal."
People who smoke marijuana are a considerably larger percentage of the population that "drug addicts" or hard drugs users not otherwise specified.
Law enforcement arrested over 800,000 Americans for pot last year. Is that not astounding? How can that be "unimportant"?
If you realize that pot smoking isn't the horrible thing the ONDCP and others wish for you to believe, that all they will ever tell you is hype and propaganda; if you understand it is far less impactful than tobacco or alcohol (being non-fatal is one handy measure), and if you add to this realization that the main consequence of pot smoking is arrest and involvement in America's "justice system", then you should be able imagine that pot should not be "illegal".
If marijuana is relegalized, what will they have to do? The "pool" of hardcore drug users is dwindling, which is good for us but not so good for law enforcement budgets. Legal marijuana removes a huge focus of law enforcement attention.
Now, if you focus all that manpower and money wasted on marijuana n dealing with the hardcore folks, I suppose they could all be arrested and put in jail. Or community policing. Something that helps the community.
The legislative and law enforcement approach to "drugs" has been a failure, if for no other reason than it is fundamentally the incorrect solution to the problem. Addiction and drug abuse are medical problems first and foremost.
With the population of hard drugs users, one main issue is that in jail they still require care and a lot of these people will be high-maintenance and expensive to keep in prison. Treatment options and availability should be increased. In the end they need treatment because this is a medical issue first and foremost. So one way or another the government is going to pay for treatment for these people.
Which means, legal or illegal, you the tax payer WILL pay for their treatment, like it or not. I say it's better to fund treatment - make it part of the coming healthcare overhaul that is long overdue in this country.
For those who gasp or get all addled when this topic surfaces, relegalization means 2 basic things:
- It means that cannabis was once legal. And by following the rules of the Constitution, reformers wish to make it legal again.
- Relegalization means regulation.
Tobacco and alcohol are the models for rendering dangerous elements legally available. Regarding specifically tobacco regulation: citing statistics claiming that slightly more tenth-grade students have smoked pot than tobacco as evidence that regulation of tobacco works.
Simply put, we have leverage over tobacco sellers that we don't have with marijuana dealers. Because tobacco retailers and producers are licensed and regulated, we have some control over them. If they want to keep their lucrative businesses, cigarette merchants have a strong incentive to follow the laws -- even laws they don't like.
Consider this: As part of their reaction to the Synar Amendment, tobacco retailers adopted a "voluntary" program called "We Card." Today, virtually any store that sells cigarettes posts a large, brightly colored sign saying, "Under 18, No Tobacco. We Card."
Regulation works. Prohibition deprives authorities of the best tools available to successfully regulate sales and marketing. Prohibition has handed the entire, annual $113 billion marijuana industry over to unregulated criminals, with entirely predictable consequences.
What about the prison industry, though?
Lots of folks are in prison in America.
As of year-end 2006, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported that American jails and prisons held a record-breaking 2,258,983 men and women, and that one in 31 adults are now under some form of correctional supervision. Analysis of the report, released last week by The Sentencing Project revealed that, since 1980, there has been a 1,200 percent increase in the number of people incarcerated for the possession or sale of illicit substances, from 41,100 to at least 532,400 today. At nearly double the rate of men, the number of women in prison has increased by 812 percent in that same time period. In October, the Marijuana Policy Project also reported that marijuana arrests exceeded nearly 830,000 in the same year, resulting in one pot-related arrest every 38 seconds.
And we are no safer.
It should be the goal of the Democratic party, since it's going to cast off the corporate influences and become a party of "the People", to end the "war on drugs" as it is now known.
The cannabis plant would be relegalized and regulated post haste. This is one of the few major issues that can be corrected relatively easily, quickly and cheaply. There is a massive logjam of laws that has to be addressed, but law enforcement can be ordered to stand down on all cannabis-related matters and their attention immediately diverted to more pressing issues. (unless we find we simply have too many...)
A committee would be needed to work on releasing marijuana prisoners from incarceration.
Effective drug policies would be drafted, including harm-reduction perspectives and drug-diversion courts for addicts.
All of this can start with Democratic Candidates talking about "the need for reform", when the issue arises. Because the issue is so highly emotional, thanks to decades of highly-emotionalized propaganda, real leadership on this issue will come in the form of Democratic leaders who talk simply and plainly about the overt failure of drug policy, and lament that change is needed.
Nearly half of America openly supports changing cannabis laws and doing something about the out-of-control nature of the current war on drugs. Democratic leaders should want to tap into that.
We spend more on chasing pot smokers and drug addicts in the US alone than was spent globally cleaning up from a year of natural disasters. Think what good could have been done with all that wasted money and human effort. It's just wrong to work that hard and spend such astronomical sums of money to make people more miserable than to help make them less miserable.
But then, I am a liberal.