The War on Drugs: Expensive, Destructive, Immoral

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Immoral public policy in the name of protection

What's the issue?
The "War on Drugs" officially began during the Nixon administration,
But what is it?

Substance prohibition has been an issue of governance for a long time, but
how do our modern laws differ? What are the implications of the ways in
which we enforce these laws, both through our social mechanisms, and
through our government?

Historical Examples of Prohibition
7th Century Sharia law prohibited the
consumption of alcohol

"Coffee, regarded as a Muslim drink, was
prohibited to Orthodox Christians in its
native Ethiopia until as late as 1889"

Source: Wikipedia

What are its goals?
"...a set of drug policies of the United
States that are intended to discourage the
production, distribution, and consumption of
illegal psychoactive drugs."--Wikipedia

What is actually prohibited?
There are a large amount of substances that are prohibited, but some of the substances
that get a lot of public attention are: crack (crystalline cocaine), methamphetamine,
cannabis, heroin, lysergic acid, and MDMA.

To be designated a "Schedule I" a drug must meet these qualifications:
* High risk for abuse
* No current widely accepted medical use
* A lack of common safety and medical procedures

It is illegal to possess, manufacture or distribute these substances, or to counterfeit them.

...but is it doing what it set out to achieve?
"Very commonly substances are criminalized
because they're associated with what's called the
dangerous classes, poor people, or working people.
So for example in England in the 19th century, there
was a period when gin was criminalized
and whiskey wasn't, because gin is what poor people
--Noam Chomsky
"The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating
consequences for individuals and societies around
the world."
--George P. Schultz and Paul A. Volcker

What are the more insidious effects?
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics,
approximately 2.3 million American adults are
incarcerated in the prison system of the US.
That's almost 1% of the population of the entire
country--meaning we imprison the highest
proportion of our population compared to any
other country. THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A
SECOND. Land of the free?
Of those 2.3 million people, African-
Americans, Hispanics, and other
minorities are over-represented in
the prison population, as visible
from the graph at right, even
though actual rates of use are
nearly identical.

...holy crap, that's a lot of people behind bars
"Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an
almost tenfold increase. More than half of America's federal inmates today are in prison
on drug convictions. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges,
more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 of 5 of those arrests were
simply for possession.


Many state prisons are now run by private companies that have powerful lobbyists in state
capitals. These firms can create jobs in places where steady work is rare; in many states,
they have also helped create a conveyor belt of cash for prisons from treasuries to outlying
Partly as a result, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of
spending on higher education in the past 20 years. In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on
prisons vs. $5.7 billion on the UC system and state colleges. Since 1980, California has built
one college campus and 21 prisons. A college student costs the state $8,667 per year; a
prisoner costs it $45,006 a year."

Source: Time Magazine

The result: an booming private prison industry
Source: ACA Directory of Correctional Facilities

...and where do all these non-violent offenders
go when they get out of prison?
A 2002 study survey showed that among
nearly 275,000 prisoners released in 1994,
67.5% were rearrested within 3 years, and
51.8% were back in prison.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics