Drugs are ruining families and creating a huge social cost. I wanted to say that up front. Narcotics are highly addictive, and users’ better judgment is quickly overcome by an insatiable need to feed their habit, leading to theft, human trafficking, and prostitution. I’m not a fan of drugs and I want to say that up front.
Even so, our efforts to fight the issue have likely caused more problems than they’ve solved. The social, economic, health, political, and human costs of low or no tolerance for drug use results in excessive punishment, which does not decrease usage but rather creates a cycle of repeat offenders.
Social and Economic Impacts
Socially, the legal risk of using marijuana creates a subversive culture that separates users from positive role models without deterring usage. Economically, prohibition of recreational drug use promotes a black market of unregulated trade in which there can be no quality control or guarantee of user safety.
As mentioned, the war on drugs has not significantly reduced drug abuse, and the street drugs often contain impurities that gravely affect health. Consider also that an overwhelming majority of incarcerated people in America are in prison for drug charges. Prison, of course, is detrimental to your health.
Politically, the attention spent on the war on drugs has cost the United States billions. According to the blog “Wasted Tax Dollars,” the US spends $51 million dollars on the drug war annually, resulting in a rise in drug-related incarcerations from 50,000 in 1980 to half a million in 2015. We have surely earned the ridicule of more liberal nations such as Singapore and Denmark that regulate selected drugs and save prison cells for more violent and heinous offenders.
Perhaps the largest impact of the war on drugs is the human cost. There certainly are violent drug offenders who belong behind bars. However, the focus seems out of context. For example, according to Families Against Mandatory Minimums, 11,000 people received mandatory minimums in federal courts in 2010, including 7,212 drug offenders, 805 child pornography offenders and only 322 sex abuse offenders.
There are some more enlightened trends happening that offer a ray of hope. The Narcotic Addict Treatment Act of 1974 heralded a policy shift regarding addiction treatment. Under the act, physicians are able to legally prescribe approved narcotic medications for opiate addiction treatment outside of traditional opioid treatment facilities.
With voters speaking through their ballots regarding the desire for legally sanctioned usage of medical marijuana usage and methodologies such of opiate addiction treatments that include low dosages of less harmful drugs, we can hope that the war on drugs becomes a much more effective focus on recovery and prevention rather than locking addicts up into prison systems that only contribute to an endless cycle of crime and misery.