WASHINGTON, March 29, 2013 ― The “war on drugs,” a phrase coined in by the Nixon administration, has resulted in half of America’s incarcerated adult population being jailed for drug crimes.
At a time when state budgets are stretched and governors are facing harsh economic choices, at a time when state budgets are slashed to eliminate education and social services, we are constantly reminded that the United States leads other nations in the wildly expensive activity of locking up hundreds of thousands of its citizens for non-violent crimes.
Marijuana was illegalized as part of William Randolph Hurst’s campaign to eliminate hemp, a cheap alternative to his extensive tree farms and wood pulp operations. The war on that drug always had an anti-Hispanic flavor, and it is interesting to see a nation as sophisticated as ours still fighting a Prohibition-style war (with as little success as Prohibition had against liquor) that disproportionately incarcerates black and Latino males. And this is to ban a substance that appears to be vastly less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco.
The cost of the war on drugs to the American taxpayer is multi-layered. There are the obvious costs of enforcement and incarceration. Add on to those the costs imposed on welfare systems as families are ripped apart and destroyed by the drug war. Neighborhoods are devastated, justice systems and politicians corrupted, police resources diverted from fighting other types of crime.
The social cost of this war, as of any other war, is enormous.
Just as with Prohibition, the war on drugs has fostered a culture of violence. When illegal drugs are no longer illegal, but controlled, that violence will be reduced along with drug-related crime, the costs of enforcement and incarceration will fall, and costs to American taxpayers will decline.
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