America’s “war on drugs” hasn’t paid off

By almost any standard, America's war on drugs has simply a costly and tragic flop. Illegal drugs remain abundantly available, have become cheaper and – in some cases – have improved in quality despite decades of efforts to rein in sales.

  • The federal government will spend roughly $18.5 billion on drug control this year and $19 billion in 2001 – with state and local governments pitching in another $22 billion or so annually.

  • Of the 2 million people imprisoned in America, over 450,000 are incarcerated for drug offences – more than are in jail in the entire European Union for offences of every kind.

  • Mandatory minimum sentences sometimes keep drug offenders behind bars longer than violent criminals.

  • Nevertheless, drug abuse among the young – which had fallen between 1979 and 1992 – climbed again until 1997 and has been stable since.

    Experts report that wholesale abuse of crack cocaine seems to have burned itself out in inner cities – only to surface in rural Mississippi and Kansas.

    Political analysts note that drug policy issues are absent from the current presidential campaign, but some states are slowly re-evaluating their own policies. For example, over the past four years seven states and the District of Columbia have passed ballot initiatives legalising the personal use of marijuana for medical purposes.

    Source: First, Inhale Deeply, Economist, September 2, 2000.

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