Forty years of drug war failure
THE WAR on drugs in the U.S. turned 40 years old this year, but there’s nothing to celebrate.
No victory has been declared, and there is no exit strategy. More than $1 trillion has been squandered on the impossible: The mission to make America “drug-free.” America, of course, isn’t even close to being free of drugs—millions of people in the U.S. continue to use illegal drugs despite the threat of harsh penalties.
The war on drugs is a war on people. It couldn’t be otherwise. It’s not directed at inanimate objects, but against drug users and those involved at every level of the drug trade.
What the drug war has been successful at is locking people up. The U.S. imprisons 2.3 million people, more than any other country in the world. Convictions for nonviolent drug crimes, mostly possession of small amounts, and mandatory minimum sentences account for the explosion in the prison population. According to the Sentencing Project, in 2008, drug offenders made up more than half of the inmates in federal prisons.
he war on drugs is shot through with racism at every stage, from the police who target minorities for “stop-and-frisk” searches for drugs, to the disproportionate length of prison sentences. More than 60 percent of people in prison today are racial and ethnic minorities, according to the Sentencing Project, and three-fourths of those serving time for drug offenses are people of color.
Here’s something else the drug war does well: waste money. Last year, the federal government spent more than $15 billion on the war on drugs, according to the organization DrugSense—and state and local governments together spent another $25 billion.