America’s forever unsuccessful war on drugs

© 2013 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. “The only justification is always in terms of the existence of innocent victims. In the case of drugs, the major effect of drug prohibition is to multiply the number of innocent victims, not to reduce it.” Milton Friedman 1991
     The prohibition against alcohol took most of a hundred years to reach its final stage in the 1930s. Then the society gave up on prohibition and settled for alcohol regulation. A surprising thing happened when the same forces of the society who pushed alcohol prohibition applied the same prohibition logic to recreational drugs. Sadly they have gotten the same result from drug prohibition as they did from alcohol prohibition.
     Albert Einstein contended the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So how long do we intend to be insane?
     When I arrived at college in 1968 even my cow college had people doing illegal drugs. It was common knowledge that recreational drugs were readily available at “reasonable” prices. Today, at the same college, drugs are still readily available at “reasonable” prices after more than forty years of the War on Drugs.
Many people over the decades looked at the results and recognized the efforts were not effective and did more harm than good. Yet the efforts continue unabated. The sticking point is the principle that society should not allow people to hurt themselves. So we incarcerate millions of American citizens, “For their own good.”
     Like alcohol prohibition, the Drug War has had three results: first, crime organizations have grown large and influential. Secondly, police enforcement and incarceration has become an industry. Finally, more people take drugs than before. More people started drinking during prohibition than before. Prohibition made our nation a nation of drinkers. The Drug War seems to have increased the number of drug users.
     So why not stop the Drug War? Two reasons: first, no politician wants to face reelection accused of being soft on drugs. Secondly, the Drug Wars are an industry for our government.Read full column