Posts Tagged ‘War on Drugs’

Addiction, depression and the war on drugs

January 23, 2019

Hat tip to Pete’s Politics and Variety.

Johann Hari is the author of Chasing the Scream: the First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (2015) and Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions (2018)

In the first book, he argued that drug addiction is not mainly a chemical dependency; it is an escape from pain and misery.  In the second, he argued that depression is not mainly a result of a chemical imbalance, it is a reaction to pain and misery.

The answer to both addiction and depression, Hari believes, is to enable people to fulfill their basic needs, material and psychological.

Late last year he was in Brazil, promoting the Portuguese-language version of Lost Connections, and did a wide-ranging interview with Glenn Greenwald about addiction, depression and drug policy.

The most interesting part, to me, starts at about the 38 minute mark.  It is about Switzerland’s successful drug legalization policy, which began in 1991.  

In Switzerland, a heroin addict can visit a clinic and get a medically-supervised injection of heroin.  This does not, as I might have thought, lead to an increase in heroin use.  Just the opposite!

The reason is that Switzerland uses the money saved from not enforcing drug laws to help addicts obtain jobs. housing and therapy.  Over time they commonly find they no longer want to escape from reality.

This fits in with the famous “rat park” experiment.  Scientists found that rats in cages prefer heroin to food and water to the point where they literally will die of starvation.  But one scientist decided to create a “rat park,” containing everything that might constitute a good life from a rat’s point of view.  Happy rats had no interest in heroin.

Unfortunately I don’t think such an experiment is feasible in the United States.  The reason is that millions of Americans, maybe a majority of the population, are stressed and fearful.  Many can’t pay their medical bills.  Many are burdened with student debt. Many are losing ground economically.

I think they would be very jealous if the minority of the population who are addicted to drugs are guaranteed jobs, housing and even drugs themselves.  It is actually more practical to make things better for the American public as a whole than for a targeted group, such as addicts.


Comparison of wars

January 18, 2016


Hat tip to Tiffany’s Non-Blog.

Two other similarities:

  • The war on terror is also a war at home; the war on drugs is also a war abroad.
  • U.S. forces keep eliminating “kingpins,” but never get any closer to victory.

Cannabis is the world’s most profitable crop

March 28, 2015

Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

Source: Information Is Beautiful

Mexican drug cartels: the ISIS next door

March 24, 2015

The Mexican drug cartels are just as vicious as the Islamic State and, from the standpoint of Americans, more dangerous.   They behead people, they torture and mutilate people and they have more power than the government over vast territories.  The main difference is that the drug lords worship money.

120814_mexicographic_1The United States government has waged a “war on drugs” by the same means by which it has waged a “war on terror,” by treating it as a military problem instead of a crime problem, and with the same failed result.

American policy has made the drug problem worse, just as it made terrorism worse.

First drug prohibition created a market for the drug cartels, just as, in an earlier era, alcohol prohibition created a market for organized crime in American cities.

Then the U.S. encouraged the Mexican government to wage a military campaign, plus torture and warrant-less detention, against the drug-lords, which escalated the conflict and the violence but did not win.

What the drug gangs are doing is so horrible that I might be tempted to think this was all right, if it was successful.  But it wasn’t.  It just meant that Mexicans are terrorized by their own government as well as the criminals.

The Drug Enforcement Administration took to working with some of the drug cartels against others.   The “Fast and Furious” fiasco, in which the DEA actually supplied guns to a drug gang and then lost track of them, was part of this.

But unlike with ISIS, we Americans do not have the option of walking away from the problem.  The power of the Mexican drug cartels reaches deep into the United States.

Merely liberalizing U.S. drug laws or winding U.S. operations in Mexico will not solve the problem, any more than ending alcohol prohibition solved the problem of organized crime in the USA, or U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan or Iraq will solve the many problems of those countries.

I hope that a smarter person than me can see a way out.


Can You Say “Blowback” in Spanish? by Rebecca Gordon for TomDispatch.   My post is based largely on this excellent, in depth summary of the situation.

Mexican drug cartels are worse than ISIL by Musa al-Gharbi for Al Jazeera.

Why Mexicans are saying they’ve had enough by Ioan Grillo and Simon Kholsa for the Tucson Sentinel.


Big Brother scene: Links & comments 10/23/13

October 23, 2013

The United States is not a totalitarian country, but there are all-too-many Americans with a totalitarian mentality.

The US government’s secrecy problem just got worse by Elizabeth Goiten for Al Jazeera America.

A federal judge ruled that the U.S. government is justified in keeping information secret when its disclosure could be used as propaganda by terrorist organizations.  In other words, the worse the crime committed by the government, the more reason to keep it secret from the public.

In the long run, the best defense against anti-American propaganda is not to commit crimes and abuses of power.  This decision goes the other way.  It gives the government the legal right to enforce coverups.

We already know that the government classifies information as secret in order to cover up mistakes and wrongdoing.  This court decision says that the government has a legal right to do this.

Why I Will Never, Ever, Go Back to the United States by Niels Gerson Lohman.

A Dutch novelist describes his experience trying to cross from Canada into the United States—hours of questioning about his life followed by a determination that he should be barred from the USA because he had visited too many majority-Muslim countries.

Many foreigners report that the experience of entering the United States is much like entering the old Soviet Union before it fell.  Aside from the wrongness of giving low-level government employees such arbitrary power, is this the face that we Americans want to present to the world?

Authors Accept Censors’ Rules to Sell in China by Andrew Jacobs for the New York Times.

The Chinese government demands the right to censor and alter books by Americans before it will allow them to be translated and published in China.  Many (but not all) American authors go along with this for the sake of royalties in the huge Chinese market.

Support for Legalizing Marijuana Grows to Highest Point Ever in Gallup Poll by Ariel Edwards-Levy for the Huffington Post.

Gallup reported that 58 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana.  The war on drugs does great harm, especially to young black men in U.S. cities.  But there is a vested interest for continuing in the prison industry and especially among police departments that get income from property seizures in drug cases.


Police can seize property of the innocent

August 7, 2013

In the United States, you are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty.  But under the civil asset forfeiture laws, the police can take and sell your computer, your car, your house and your cash even if you haven’t been convicted, or even charged, with a crime.

All they have to do is to say that they have a reasonable suspicion that the property itself was used in a crime.

Police have a strong economic incentive to do this because they get to keep property they seized, sell it and apply the money to their budgets.   Not all police departments abuse their power in this way.   I never heard any such story about the Rochester Police Department.  But many do.

The U.S. Department of Justice adds $1 billion a year to its asset forfeiture fund, according to the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties advocate.  Nobody knows the figure for state and local police, but it’s probably more.

The New Yorker ran a good article about this, The Use and Abuse of Civil Forfeiture, by Sarah Stillman, which I read on-line.  Stillman’s report reminds me of reports I used to read about police abuses in poor countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where police would shake down travelers and confiscate their property.  Sometimes it seems to me that the United States, like the old Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, is becoming a Third World nation in everything except military power.

Asset forfeiture was intended to be used as a tool of law enforcement against drug traffickers.  But now it is used against ordinary citizens, including anybody from out-of-state who happens to be driving through certain small towns in Texas.

Liberty is indivisible.  There is no way to give arbitrary power to the police or anybody else, and be sure that it will be used only against people you don’t like.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “no person shall … be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”   I hope the American Civil Liberties Union, Institute for Justice or some other civil liberties group challenges the constitutionality of civil asset forfeiture.

The war on drugs and its Mexican quagmire

May 7, 2013

All the reasons that are given for drug prohibition or, for that matter, gun prohibition are reasons for prohibiting the consumption of alcohol.

The Centers for Disease Control say that alcohol abuse is the third-largest cause of preventable death in the United States.  More than 75,000 deaths a year are attributed to alcohol.  It is involved in 39 percent of highway fatalities, one-third of suicides and 37 percent of rapes and sexual assaults.   Each year there are 3 million violent crimes in which the victim says the offender was drunk.

Given these facts, it was understandable that the United States in 1919 would try prohibiting alcohol.   The prohibition laws did not stop people from consuming alcohol, but they did stimulate the growth of organized crime to a much more powerful place in American life.

But when the Noble Experiment was repealed in 1933, things did not return to the way they were in 1919.  Organized crime did not go out of business.  It sought other activities, and is an important part of American life to this day.  All the evils that Prohibition was intended to alleviate continue to this day.  But no reasonable person wants to restore Prohibition.  It is a cure that is worse than the disease, even though the disease is very real.

carteldrugterritoriesroutes1After reading a report in the Washington Post by Dana Priest on the current state of the war on narco-traffickers in Mexico, I think drug prohibition will end in the same way.   She told how the CIA spearheaded the drug war and developed such close ties with CISEN, the Mexican intelligence service, that it became virtually part of the Mexican government.  The George W. Bush administration stepped up arrests of drug kingpins and attempts to shut down drug smuggling routes.  The druglords responded savagely.

CISEN discovered from a captured videotape and a special analytical group it set up that some of the cartels had hired former members of the U.S.-trained Guatemalan special forces, the Kaibiles, to create sociopathic killers who could behead a man, torture a child or immerse a captive in a vat of acid.

Anxious to counterattack, the CIA proposed electronically emptying the bank accounts of drug kingpins, but was turned down by the Treasury Department and the White House, which feared unleashing chaos in the banking system.

As the Mexican death toll mounted, [President Felipe] Calderon pleaded with Bush for armed drones.  He had been impressed by the results in Iraq and Afghanistan, two former U.S. officials said.  The White House considered the request, but quickly rejected it.  It was far too likely to result in collateral damage, they said.

By 2009, President Obama’s first year in office, horrific scenes had become commonplace throughout Mexico: severed heads thrown onto a dance floor, a half-dozen bodies hanged from a bridge, bombs embedded in cadavers.  Ciudad Juarez, a stone’s throw from El Paso, was a virtual killing zone.


… … Success against the cartels’ leadership had helped incite more violence than anyone had predicted, more than 60,000 deaths and 25,000 disappearances in the past seven years alone.

Meanwhile, the drug flow into the United States continued unabated.  Mexico remains the U.S. market’s largest supplier of heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine and the transshipment point for 95 percent of its cocaine.

via The Washington Post.

On Dec. 1, a new President, Enrique Pena Nieto, took office.  According to Priest, he is less interested in the U.S.-backed policy of arresting druglords and more in drug abuse prevention and keeping Mexico’s streets safe.  In other words, he cares more about Mexico’s problems and less about helping the United States solve its problems.

She reported that U.S. officials are worried about President Pena Nieto’s priorities.  I think we in the United States would be wise to adopt these priorities for ourselves.  The roots of the U.S. drug addiction problem are in the United States, not in Mexico, Colombia or any other foreign country.

I think the war on drugs is going to end in the same way as Prohibition.  I don’t think that will be a good result, but I think it will be an inevitable result.  In this, as in many other things, I will be pleased if events prove me wrong.

There are two wise sayings that apply here.  One is Stein’s Rule, by Herbert Stein, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Nixon.

If something cannot go on forever, someday it will stop.

The other is one of Rumsfeld’s Rules, by Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush.

If a problem cannot be solved, it may not be a problem, but a fact.


Vested interests in mass incarceration

January 28, 2013


Michelle Alexander wrote in The New Jim Crow about how young black men are crushed by the war on drugs, both through discriminatory law enforcement and by loss of legal rights as ex-felons.  Unfortunately the federal government’s policies in the past 30 years have created a powerful vested interest in continuing the status quo.

alexander.m.newjimcrowAlexander said that if the United States were to return to the incarceration rates of the 1970s, a time when many liberals said rates of imprisonment were too high, it would mean the release of four out of five people currently behind bars today.  That would threaten the jobs of the more than 700,000 Americans employed as prison and jail guards, administrators, service workers and other prison personnel.   The criminal justice system employed almost 2.4 million people in 2006, she wrote; if four out of five people were released from prison, far more than a million people could lose their jobs.

Privatization of prisons means that there are wealthy individuals with a stake in continued mass incarceration.  This is politically important.  Prison guards unions in California campaigned against the referendum to legalize medical marijuana.  Private prison corporations lobbied in favor of the Arizona proof-of-citizenship law aimed at unauthorized immigrants.

Criminal justice jobs in California alone

Criminal justice jobs in California alone

The existence of a powerful Incarceration Lobby is the result of public policy going back to the Nixon administration and the 1970s drive to “de-fund the left.”   Conservatives in the Nixon administration thought that their opposition came not so much from poor people, who would not be poor if they were capable of organizing on their own behalf, as from social workers, public health nurses, guidance counselors and others in the helping professions who advocated for the poor.

The Nixon administration established the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, which provided federal aid for local police departments.  It also advocated, unsuccessfully, a guaranteed annual income, which was intended to help poor people while removing the welfare system’s disincentive to work.  This later became the Earned Income Tax Credit established under the Clinton administration.  I think both these ideas were good on their merits, but they were the beginning of a trend to diminish spending for the helping professions and to increase spending for law enforcement and incarceration.

Things were not always as they are now

Things were not always as they are now

Michelle Alexander picked up the story with the Reagan administration.   Ronald Reagan, like Goldwater, Wallace and Nixon, campaigned against two stereotypical figures—the filthy, drug-abusing, draft-dodging hippie, and the idle, drug-abusing, criminally-inclined young black man on the street corner.  Yet Reagan’s war on drugs did not go after dope-smoking college students.  It was aimed almost entirely at the black ghetto, based on the insight that most white people are skeptical of claims of anti-black discrimination.

At the time Reagan announced the war on drugs, many state and local police departments did not consider illegal drug use a top priority.  The Reagan administration changed this by means of huge cash grants to law enforcement agencies willing to make the war on drugs a top priority.  The size of disbursements was linked to the number of drug arrests.  The Pentagon offered military equipment, including grenade launchers and Blackhawk helicopters, to local police departments.   Funding for these programs increased under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.  As with other federal grant programs, this was too good an offer for most local governments to refuse.

Another financial incentive was established in 1984, when Congress allowed federal law enforcement agencies to retain the value of any assets seized in drug arrests—the drugs themselves, drug-making equipment and conveyances used to transport drugs—and state and local law enforcement to retain 80 percent of the assets’ value.  Property or cash could be seized on mere suspicion, and the seizure could occur without notice or hearing.  Nobody need be charged with a crime; indeed, the person could be found not guilty and the property still subject to forfeiture.   This proved highly lucrative, and was a major incentive to continue the war on drugs.

The Obama administration increased federal grants for drug law enforcement twelve-fold—not because there was any evidence of an increased need, but as part of the economic stimulus program.  The program enabled a certain number of police officers to keep their jobs in a period of economic austerity, as a cost of ruining the lives and futures of a certain number of poor young black men.

Alexander advocated a scaling down of the law enforcement aspect of the war on drugs, and its replacement by drug counseling, job placement and other programs to help young drug users.  I agree with her, but I think the prospects for any such program are poor in a situation of economic austerity.  If we had a high-wage, full-employment economic as in the 1950s and 1960s, few would object to allowing the rising tide to lift all the boats.  As it is, it is more of a lifeboat situation.  More jobs for ex-offenders will be perceived as fewer jobs for everyone else.


Drugs: crime, punishment and race

January 27, 2013


This graphic, which illustrated a two-part series of articles in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2008, shows how the war on drugs targets African Americans.

Click on If you’re arrested for drugs, you’re more likely to get a second chance if you’re white for the first part of the series.

Click on In Cuyahoga County, you’re more likely to get a plea deal if you’re white for the second part.

How race discrimination became legal again

January 27, 2013


Michelle Alexander in her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, showed how racial discrimination has returned to the United States in the guise of the so-called war on drugs.

Young black men, and black people in general, are singled out for searches, arrests and punishment based on their race.  Surveys show little difference between drug use by white and black Americans.  Yet the vast majority of people in prison on drug charges are poor young black men, and the vast majority of black people sentenced to prison are guilty only of drug use.

Then by virtue of their criminal records, blacks convicted of drug use become second-class citizens.  As felons, they become ineligible by law to serve in the armed forces, to receive federal housing, aid to education or public assistance.  In some states, they lose the right to serve on juries or to work in many fields requiring occupational licenses.  Very often they lose the right to vote.  Moreover, while it is illegal with few exceptions to discriminate against people in hiring, renting or lending on the basis of race, it is perfectly legal to refuse jobs, apartments or loans to convicted felons.

This is no small matter.  Alexander pointed out that 80 percent of Chicago’s black male work force are felons.  Most black felons are guilty only of drug use, a victimless crime.  Yet they can go to prison for life for drug use, based on one conviction and two counts on another conviction.  Prior to 1988, according to Alexander, the maximum sentence for mere drug use was one year in prison.

alexander.m.newjimcrowShe said the war on drugs was part of a backlash against the victory of the civil rights movement.  Through the 1960s and 1970s, right-wing leaders such as Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan argued that the real problem was not poverty or racism, but lawbreaking.  They said the civil disobedience of Martin Luther King and the sit-in demonstrators legitimated violent crime and the rioting by poor black people in large American cities from 1964 to 1971.  When President Reagan announced the war on drugs in 1981, his target was the poor black neighborhoods.   Every President since Reagan, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, has continued or stepped up the war on drugs.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unreasonable and warrant-less searches and seizures.  Civil rights laws prohibit applying a different legal standard to blacks than to whites.  But this protection was broken down, court decision by court decision.  Police officers are entitled to stop and frisk individuals on the street, or motorists in their cars, based on their personal judgment, provided the decision is not based solely on race.  And it is up to the individual to prove that racism is the motive, which is impossible unless the police officer comes right out and admits it.

Police have the same discretion in home break-ins.  A typical drug search involves a SWAT team breaking down a door in the middle of the night, throwing in smoke grenades and pointing guns at everyone in sight, including children and young people.

It doesn’t matter if 90 percent of the searches are of black people, even though black people are not by any measure 90 percent of illegal drug uses.  The Supreme Court has ruled that statistical disparities are not relevant in search and seizure cases.  You have to prove the individual search was motivated by individual racism or a policy of racism and, in a Catch-22, you do not have standing to subpoena records to provide discrimination unless you already have proved discrimination.

The same applies to statistical disparities in sentencing and in everything else.  Barack Obama, who was not a poor young black man, admitted to using illegal drugs in his youth, as have Al Gore and Newt Gingrich.  If they had been arrested and charged, they would not have had political careers.  I’ve never used drugs myself, but I’ve come across a number of people in my life—all of them white, and including many newspaper reporters—who have.

Applicants for public housing are barred if they have criminal records.  Tenants are expelled if any family members or visitors are involved in drug use, whether on or off the premises and whether or not there is any evidence the tenant knew about it.  This is a policy that dates from Bill Clinton.

Police have the right to seize cash, automobiles or houses if they can show they have reason to believe the property was involved in drug use.  At one time they had free rein to take property and use the proceeds for the budgets of their departments.  Now there is an “innocent owner” defense, but the burden of proof is on the owner.  If your property is seized, but you are not charged with a crime, you have no right to a court-appointed attorney.

Now it is true that these abuses of police power fall on middle-class and white people, and not just on poor black people.  Abuses of power are not self-limiting.  But being subject to police abuse, going to prison and being cut off from the opportunity to work or to function in society ever after is a typical experience and expectation of young black men in large American cities.

And it also is true that there are a lot of things wrong in poor black city neighborhoods, including violent crime, that arise for other reasons.  But the war on drugs is not a solution or part of a solution.  It is a problem that makes other problems worse.

To sum up:  It is legal to single out young black men for searches, arrests and prosecution provided you don’t say it is because they are black.  And it is legal and in some cases mandatory to bar them from access to employment, housing, education and federal benefits, and from military service, jury service and voting, which are the defining characteristics of citizenship.

Click on The New Jim Crow for Michelle Alexander’s summary of her book in Mother Jones.

Click on What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Jobs for a report by Andy Kroll in Mother Jones.

Click on Stopped-and-Frisked For Being a F**king Mutt, for an an audio recording of a routine encounter by New York police and a young black man, along with commentary in The Nation.

Click on Drug, Alcohol, Tobacco Use Broken Down By Race, Ethnicity for statistics from the U.S. government’s National Study on Drug Use and Health.

Click on Race, Drugs and Law Enforcement for a report on U.S. drug enforcement by Human Rights Watch.

Click on The trouble with “colorblindness” and Baltimore: casualty of a failed drug war for earlier posts of mine.

The trouble with “colorblindness”

January 19, 2013

I’m currently reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.  She puts together a lot of things which I sort-of halfway knew, but whose significance I did not fully realize until I read this book.

Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander

I knew that the enforcement of drug laws was aimed primarily at poor black people.

I knew that the “war on drugs” was carried out in disregard of basic civil liberties.

I knew that primarily as a result of the “war on drugs,” huge numbers of young black men are in prison.

I knew that conviction of a crime entails loss of basic rights, including, in many states, the right to vote.

But it took Michelle Alexander to make me see how this resulted in a disenfranchisement of a large segment of the poor black population.  Black people who’ve been convicted of a drug crime can be barred from employment and bank credit, or from voting, just as when segregation was enforced by law.

Like many white people, I have always thought, and still think, that Americans should strive to be “colorblind”—that is, to treat people as individuals, regardless of their color or ethnic background.  But to Michelle Alexander, “colorblindness” has a very different meaning.  To her, it means the pretense that racial prejudice and racial discrimination do not exist.  It means, for example, that police can stop and frisk every young black man in a poor neighborhood, so long as they can say they are doing it for reasons other than race, and that the courts and politicians can ignore the disparity.

Alexander says that maybe someday the United States will be colorblind in the good sense, but we should not pretend that this day has arrived or will arrive anytime soon.


Click on these links for more about racial discrimination in “colorblind” America.

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Jobs, a report by Andy Kroll of Mother Jones on racial discrimination in employment and the implications of Michelle Alexander’s book.

Stopped-and-Frisked For Being a F**king Mutt, an audio recording of a routine encounter by New York police and a young black man, along with commentary in The Nation.

Overcoming Racial Discrimination , a comprehensive roundup of evidence of racial discrimination, including statistics and the experience of black and white testers.

Racial discrimination continues to play a part in hiring decisions, for a report on how white job applicants with criminal records had a higher success rate than black applicants with the same qualifications and clean records.

The war on drugs at a glance

October 12, 2012

Click on drugsnotthugs for the source of the chart.

Hat tip to The Agitator.

[Update 10/13/12]  The figures are more iffy than I assumed, although I still think the general point is correct.

Click on Questions on the 1315 Project Chart for discussion of the figures and where they come from.

A few astute viewers have noted that at its peak spending, the chart I’ve included only hits approximately $20 billion, which extrapolated over 40 years would yield only $800 billion.  Yet we can clearly see that the chart itself is not flat at the $20B level, but climbs sharply beginning in the mid 1980s. So in short, the chart, as shown, does not add up to $1.5 trillion.

So why did I do this?  This graphic was initially not meant to stand on its own but rather illustrate an interviewee’s assertions about the costs and efficacy of drug prohibition.  In a tight production schedule, I utilized a data set that I thought most accurately illustrated the nature and growth of the costs of the War on Drugs and that data is US federal drug control spending. But the $1.5 trillion figure, as mentioned by Jack Cole in his interview, accounts for many more costs, including state level costs, prison costs, lost productivity costs due to incarceration and others.  I trust Jack’s estimate of $1.5 trillion after a quick review of the ONDCP report from 2004 gave me confidence that he was right on the money. You can check out the ONDCP’s The Economic Costs of Drug Abuse in the United States, 1992-2002.

via Matt Groff.

Click on Reason for more about the figures.

While the $1.5 trillion figure doesn’t correspond to the numbers at right, it’s actually low.  In 2010, the AP put the 40-year tab of federal drug control spending at $1 trillion. But the massive federal drug control budget–for fiscal year 2013, it’ll be $3.7 billion for interdiction, $9.4 billion for law enforcement, and $9.2 billion for early intervention–is actually a pretty small slice of the pie. States and municipalities have their own drug war expenses–investigating, trying, and locking up drug offenders–and those expenses actually dwarf what the federal government spends.

According to The Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society, last published by the Department of Justice in 2011, enforcing illegal drug laws imposes an annual cost on the American criminal justice system of $56 billion; while incarceration of drug offenders imposes an annual cost of $48 billion.

That’s $104 billion spent annually by states and cities on two aspects of the drug war (and doesn’t include treatment, public assistance, and a slew of other costs), compared to roughly $21 billion spent by the federal government.  For $1.5 trillion to reflect just federal spending, the federal drug control budget would need to have been $37.5 billion a year, every year, for the last four decades. It’s only slightly more than half that this year.


I expanded this post with excerpts from the links on Oct. 19, 2012.

The failed war on drugs

October 2, 2012

Failed War On Drugs

Enforcement of the drug laws falls disproportionately on African-Americans, who, according to surveys, do not use illegal drugs in greater numbers than members of other ethnic groups, but account for much more than their share of prisoners serving time for mere use of illegal drugs.

Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and the other leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties are all committed to the so-called war on drugs.   It is the leaders of the so-called minor parties who want to put a stop to it.

Hat tip to KN@PPSTER for the chart.

Baltimore: casualty of a failed drug war

August 28, 2012

Watch this documentary if you want to see an example of the failure and futility of the war on drugs.

The rise of poverty, crime and drug-dealing in Baltimore is related to the decline of high-wage manufacturing industry, such as the big U.S. Steel plant at Sparrows Point.   Black people had a narrow window of opportunity between the time that good-paying union jobs in industry were open to them, and the time that U.S. manufacturing industry started to decline.  A high-wage, full-employment economy is the best thing that could happen for poor people in cities such as Baltimore.

The talk that the so-called war on drugs is actually a war on black people may seem exaggerated, but statistics indicate that there is little difference in rates of drug abuse or use of illegal drugs among white and black Americans, and yet blacks are incarcerated for drug crimes 10 times as frequently as whites.  I think this probably is more a result of indifference to the plight of poor black people in urban slums rather than a deliberate policy.

I see little immediate hope of change.  President Obama is committed to the war on drugs on many fronts, from waging low-level war in Colombia to overriding California’s medical marijuana laws, and I don’t see Gov. Romney changing anything if elected.  The most important national figures criticizing the war on drugs are ex-Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, the Libertarian Party candidate for President, and Rep. Ron Paul, the Republican gadfly.

Click on Drug, Alcohol, Tobacco Use Broken Down By Race, Ethnicity for statistics from the U.S. government’s latest National Study on Drug Use and Health.

Click on Race, Drugs and Law Enforcement for a report on U.S. drug enforcement by Human Rights Watch.