July 9, 2008 - 10:19AM
By SCOTT SHACKFORD, editor
Let's say you lay traps in your house to catch mice. After a year of this
practice you have failed to catch any mice. Would you continue laying traps?
After nearly 40 years of fighting the drug war in the United States (the
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration celebrated its 35th birthday last week)
we have failed to have any significant impact on drug use in America. A
recent report by the World Health Organization puts America at the highest
rate of illegal drug use among several First World nations.
Jacob Sullum, senior editor of libertarian Reason Magazine, analyzed the
information and found further that increases and decreases in drug use in
America seem to bear no relationship with government or law enforcement
efforts: "Although marijuana arrests have increased by more than 150 percent
since 1990, marijuana use seems to be just as common today as it was then,
if not more so."
Even more striking, Sullum noticed that drug use in America was
significantly higher than in those European nations with looser drug
enforcement policies. Twice as many Americans have used marijuana as the
Dutch and eight times as many have used cocaine.
If drug policies have such little effect on drug use, why are we continuing
to fight this war? Don't blame it on the violent gangs. The gangs exist
because of the black market caused by laws against drug use, not because of
the drugs themselves. Don't blame it on Mexico or Colombia. Only four
percent of Mexico's and Colombia's residents have used cocaine. All the
violence and drug lords in Latin America exist to serve our citizens'
So many people have died fighting this war, based on an unwinnable attack on
the fundamentals of economics â€” law enforcement officers, bystanders, even
children. What will be the tipping point to bring this country around to
rethinking this entire strategy?
Is it because of the massive bureaucracy? How many thousands of government
employees rely on the drug war continuing for their livelihoods? To them, we
would ask if the risks and losses are worth it â€” to know that periodically,
one of them would end up dead in a fight that can never be won the way we're
For that matter, just think about what else we could be doing with these
people in this innovative nation if they weren't stuck enforcing harsh drug
policies that do not and will not work.
It's disturbing to think that the entire point of the drug war is to give
people jobs, but what we're doing is the equivalent to paying for somebody
to keep putting out mouse traps that aren't catching mice.