Whenever anyone suggests that the War on Drugs is a failure and it is time to decriminalize most drugs, they are immediately accused of wanting to allow anyone, even “the children” to use and abuse drugs. The moral busybodies scream, “If we legalize drugs, people will drive while stoned, we’ll have tens of thousand of addicts who’ll become parasites on society, we’ll have drug babies, and millions will die!” But that’s what we have now—and the War on Drugs, not the drugs themselves are largely to blame.
This is a typical tactic used by those who have no sane, reasonable or factual argument to defend their view; when the facts aren’t on your side, attack the other side, question their motives, demonize them, and never, ever admit they may hold sincere beliefs. Like most Americans, I believe the War on Drugs is a failure and should end. Do I want children to use drugs? Of course not; not my children, not anyone’s children. Nor do I want anyone, especially children, to eat foods that are not good for them, to drive too fast, or to stand out in the cold until they come down with pneumonia. But I am not willing to use force to stop them, or throw them in jail if they persist in such behavior.
There is no question that decriminalizing drugs will not only save lives, it will save money. The federal government spent more than $15 billion dollars in 2010 on the War on Drugs according to Office of National Drug Control Policy (“National Drug Control Strategy: FY2010 Budget Summary,” Washington, DC: 2009, p. 15.). That’s at a rate of about $500 per second, as calculated by Drug Sense, the award-winning non-profit group incorporated in 1995 to inform citizens and encourage involvement in drug policy reform, in their Drug War Clock.
Drug legalization could cut government spending by about $41.3 billion annually, according to a recent report issued by the Cato Institute. About $25.7 billion of this savings could be made by state and local governments. One city has already realized such savings. Philadelphia stopped arresting small time marijuana consumers, imposing a fine and mandatory drug-awareness classes instead, and saved more than $2 million, according to the Philadelphia News (“D.A.: Philly’s new pot policy just makes sense … and saves dollars,” July 8, 2011). In addition, states (in 2007) spent $6.2 billion keeping people in prison for drug offenses and an estimated $6.3 million on federal prisons, where 55 percent of the inmates are incarcerated for drug offenses. While these figures are merely small drops in the bucket when it comes to skyrocketing federal spending and out-of-control federal debt, stopping this wasteful spending would be a small step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, a stumbling block to any step in the right direction is the myth that ending the War on Drugs will result in an increase of drug use. This lie is reported as fact even though quite the opposite has been shown to be true in real life. For example, Portugal’s experience demonstrated that usage, especially among teens, actually dropped (“Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies“).
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