Time to rethink the war on drugs

The so-called ‘war on drugs’ was kicked off by the Nixon administration in 1971, with the intention of discouraging the production, distribution, and consumption of illegal psychoactive drugs.

The USA is not the only country actively engaged in the war. It’s become an obsession of the West.

Each year billions of dollars are spent on law enforcement and military activities in the name of defeating the drug lords.

It’s been going on for more than forty years. I don’t think it can be called a success by any definition – despite all the headlines on record-breaking drug busts. All we have achieved to date, as far as I can see, is an increase in the prison population and an increase in the economic benefit of being a drug lord.  We have not decreased production, distribution or consumption.

I’m not alone in seeing it this way, as you can read in this great infographic by Ocean Recovery:  Why the War on Drugs has Failed.

One of the more ironic aspects of the ‘war on terror’, currently winding down in Afghanistan, is the nations of the West are paying the expenses of both sides.

Who do you think the Taliban sell most of their opium/heroin to? It’s not to the locals.

From my perspective, all the effort being put into addressing the scourge of drugs on society is misplaced. Our efforts have been (and remain to be) primarily on what the economists term the ‘supply side’ of the equation. We’re trying to stop the production and distribution.

If it hasn’t worked after forty years, why do we persist?

Maybe a more appropriate way of asking that question is: Who is benefitting from the continuation of the war?

If we take a helicopter view of the war, what we see is an enormous industry that has developed over the years to support the war on drugs. There are all the people that work in law enforcement (and elements of the military) and all the companies in their supply chain. Think about the companies making all the equipment they use from helicopters, fast boats, flak jackets and bullets to toilet paper. And think of the guns, made in the USA,  being used by both sides in the current campaign being conducted across the border between Mexico and the USA.

Make no mistake, the war on drugs, with the USA alone spending tens of billions annually, is big business for some. Just think of the all the lobbyists around the world working to keep it all going.

Time for a pause to evaluate our progress is way overdue.

I’d like to suggest we’re putting our efforts into the wrong side of the economic equation. I think we should be working with the ‘demand side’. Instead of working to suppress production and distribution, I think we should be working on addressing the reasons why so many young people end up either taking drugs or committing suicide.

I wonder what sort of world we would find ourselves living in if we devoted some of those billions of dollars, we currently waste on fighting the war on drugs, to teaching our young people to meditate and value their lives. Or on alleviating the poverty and injustices in our cities that currently draw young people into lives of crime.

People don’t turn to drugs if their lives have meaning or they feel valued and respected.

It’s easy to blame. It’s easy to lock them up if they make a mistake.



What would happen if we chose to love our young people, instead of continuing the war on drugs?




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