America’s War On Drugs.. and People

As society progresses, we are quickly becoming aware that the War On Drugs is perhaps the federal government’s most debilitating and destructive initiative. Many argue that changing the U.S drug policy would be ridiculous, irrational, and dangerous. But once we analyze the effects of the War On Drugs and what is has done to the citizens, the prison industrial complex, inner cities, and to federal agencies, I hope then you can see the real danger in this un-winnable war.

In June 1971, President Nixon officially declared a “War On Drugs” (or WOD) here in the the United States. He dramatically increased the size and scope of federal drug agencies and implemented policies such as no-knock warrants and mandatory sentencing.

With the highest incarceration rate in the world, the United States represents 4% of the world’s population but it holds 22% of the world’s prisoners.  More than half of America’s federal inmates are in prison for drug convictions. According to a TIMES article, In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, more than the number arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 out of 5 of those arrests were simply for possession. There are over 2 million people incarcerated in local, state, and federal prisons in the United States, an incarceration rate of 743 per 100,000 people, the highest in the world. Non-violent drug offenders now occupy a quarter of these numbers, as opposed to before the enactment of the war on drugs when non-violent drug offenders occupied less than 10% of the total incarceration rate. This being said, African Americans are four times more likely of being arrested and convicted than any other race. Unfortunately, this is what feeds an endless cycle in low income communities. While statistically white people do more illegal drugs than black people, blacks and other minorities don’t have the same resources to defend themselves in a court of law.

One of the most important aspects to the reevaluation of the War on Drugs is the amount of deaths attributed to this policy. Changing it isn’t to target drug usage, but to target the use and abuse of violence in our country. Most violent acts attributed to drugs aren’t committed under the influence per se, but are committed due to the drug trade, which essentially means the transferring, exchanging, buying, and selling of illegal drugs. Whether it be through gang activity, black market, or cartels, the government trying to limit the supply of drugs and crack down violently on usage only incentivizes entry into this massive market. Simple economics shows that as the quantity of an item decreases, the the price will only increase. Frankly, drugs aren’t one of those goods users cease to purchase as price goes up, since demand is inelastic for addicted users. And as the price goes up, sellers and producers see a window of opportunity to get into the drug selling market, as alluded to by these two supply and demand curve illustrations.


On top of the WOD being economically flawed, it’s costing our country big time. Since the enactment of the WOD, the government has spent an average of $40-50 billion dollars per year to fund this never ending war. A war to keep drugs off the streets when private prisons can’t even keep them out of their own jail cells. The same private prisons profit off of the war on drugs. These are for profit prisons contracted by the government. The relationship between private prisons, lobbyists, and the government is know as the prison-industrial complex.

Now how do we solve this? Regardless of whether or not you believe in legalization or prohibition, this system needs to changed. We can’t keep losing lives to this endless, profit driven war. Many believe that full legalization would destroy the country. But legalization doesn’t have a direct relationship with usage. As we’ve seen in Portugal, all drugs were legalized, regulated, and as a result, drug abuse was cut by 50%. Portugal also focused on innovative treatment centers for addicts. Regulating drug usage would also be a lot safer and could prevent overdoses. By regulating the composition of the drugs, distributers can ensure that the drugs aren’t laced with certain deadly substances and can prescribe safe doses that could be used to prevent serious withdrawals. More importantly, it would help take drugs out of the hands of violent cartels and gangs.

This article served as a quick summary of some of the WOD’s most dangerous consequences. I urge my readers to do more research on this topic and to create their own platform as to how the U.S should reverse this dangerous war. Remember, you own your body and can rationally decide what you believe is safe to put inside of it. The best deterrent to drug usage is letting the invisible hand of the free market peacefully counter these harmful substances with logical solutions. Right now our solution has been the violent coercion of government, and as we have seen, this is both a violation of our natural rights and largely a failure.