War On Drugs Has Failed

Posted: November 16, 2013

As a young man, I always believed in American drug laws. People who used or sold drugs were the cancers of our society, deserving whatever harsh fate awaited them. At John Wayland Elementary, the D.A.R.E. doctrine showed me what to think about drugs. My impressionable mind was sold on the fear, conjuring visions of malicious dealers lurking in the shadows, awaiting a young victim to snare with a “gateway drug.”

President Clinton and President Bush had both openly admitted to using drugs. Michael Phelps went from poster-boy to tabloid bong-smoker overnight. How could these icons of American virtue and excellence partake in such evil? After graduating from high school, the war became personal. Friends and family who were otherwise responsible, law-abiding citizens had their lives irrevocably altered by a skewed legal system and society that stigmatized them with shame for their drug use. The bastions of belief I’d held were liquifying and washing away under the weight of hypocrisy and contradiction.

The Nixon administration declared a war on drugs in the early 1970s, which was simply a continuation of criminalization and regulatory efforts by the federal government stretching to the beginning of the 20th century, including the crime-ridden prohibition era. These doctrines and policies emit a singular message: Drugs, drug dealers, and drug users are bad. But what’s the other side of the story behind mind-altering substances? I attempted to deconstruct accepted norms and to rebuild, from a pragmatic, philosophical standpoint, new, albeit bold, ways to view the Drug War.

In his timeless book “On War,” Prussian General and famed military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz believed that war must be waged with a well-defined, achievable goal in mind. This begs the question, is eradication the goal of the Drug War? A basic understanding of supply and demand economics shows how demand breeds supply. Thus; attempted eradication spawns a black market, riddled with brutal, terrorizing violence, human trafficking, and racketeering, among other favorite cartel past-times. Ironically, it is society’s attempts to eradicate crime that propagates even worse crime.

What about our beloved freedoms? Interestingly, the recent promulgation of libertarian thought seems to be in direct contradiction with the Nixon-born, Reagan-sustained War, creating a very troubling, divisive dilemma for conservative America. Should the government be able to dictate what people put into their bodies? Why some substances and not others? Caffeine and nicotine are both drugs. Alcohol is arguably the most socially destructive drug known to man, but it is readily accepted in society — even glorified.

Our culture readily vilifies the dealers, distributors of malice and jackals of American values. But who are the real drug dealers? Prescription drugs are made from the same compounds as their illegal counterparts.

Amphetamines and opiates are both obtainable through legal and illegal pathways; however, the legal (prescription) pathway entails a business deal with a dealer that holds massive lobbying sway on Capital Hill. According to the Center for Disease Control, “Nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses are caused by prescription painkillers. ... The unprecedented rise in overdose deaths in the U.S. parallels a 300 percent increase since 1999. ... These drugs were involved in 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, more than cocaine and heroin combined.”

Our current regime of thought with regards to drugs must change. It is indicative of a misguided, irrational set of policies.  Were the war on drugs to end overnight, you would see the dismantling of the world’s largest criminal empires, of a bloated, immoral privatized prison industry, and a massive influx of tax revenue. There is no end game with this war, and the human suffering and societal destruction associated are as perpetual as the War itself. It is time to change the Drug War dialogue in America. This is not a “hippy’s” issue, but a moral concern of responsible citizens.

Justin Shull is a Lieutenant Junior Grade Logistics Officer in the United States Navy. He studied Economics and English at the University of Pittsburgh and is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s Naval ROTC program.

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