Of all the failed government policies (pardon the repetition) of the past 40 years, the War on Drugs is probably the worst one. This war on plants (marijuana, coca, poppy, etc.) is an epic fail, whatever the metric you use.

It’s an epic fail with respect to the availability of drugs, the main goal of the War. A 2005 survey showed that 85 percent of 12th graders could have an easy access to pot; drugs like cocaine and heroine were also relatively accessible. The first one shouldn’t be a surprise. Indeed, it’s also called weed, and like other weeds it can grow basically everywhere.

This failure to cut supplies is reflected by prices. A 2013 study shows that prices for heroin, cocaine and cannabis (a byproduct of pot) have decreased by over 80 percent between 1990 and 2007. That same study also shows an unintended consequence of the war: the increased potency of drugs, sometimes referred to as the Iron law of prohibition.

Since people get penalized for the amount of drug they possess rather than its strength, there is therefore an incentive to make drugs more potent since the penalty will be the same. This explains why crystal meth, which can be made with industrial solvents, has become so popular. It also explain the emergence of crack cocaine, which is basically cocaine and baking soda. Finally, it also explains the increased potency of alcohol during Prohibition.

R.I.P Rule of Law

But above all, the War on Drugs is an epic failure of the rule of law, the basis of our modern societies. The rule of law is simple: laws are to be made general in order to give general directions rather than micro-manage society, they have predictable penalties if they are violated and they are applied equally to every single citizen.

The War on Drugs completely failed at that, as drug prohibition is inherently racist. Opium was banned, both in Canada and in the U.S., as a racist resentment towards people of Asian origin. After all, authorities couldn’t stay idle at those poor white women who were woed in opium dens. These same “considerations” were invoked when cocaine was banned – this time, it was directed towards Blacks, who apparently became sex-crazed beasts. Finally, it was racism towards Mexicans that finalized the push to ban marijuana – it apparently gave them super-human force.

However, special interests might also have influenced the decision to ban pot. Hemp, one of its byproduct, is a highly efficient fiber that is more profitable (and ecological) than wood pulp and cotton. It was in fact predicted that it would overcome wood to make paper. Unfortunately, drug paranoia at the time of the Depression cut that prediction short. Harry Anslinger, the first head for the Bureau of Narcotics (which would become the DEA later on), had heavy interests in DuPont chemicals, which had just developped nylon. The paper pulp industry was also getting nervous. Anslinger even blackmailed the American Medical Association to “support” his facts and “discredit” a study commanded by Fiorelli LaGuardia, late New York City mayor, that said that pot wasn’t as bad as it was portrayed.

Going back to racism, it is still showing very much in the War on Drugs. In fact, racism might have been one of Nixon’s motivations so he could get the Southern racists’ vote because the Democrats had turned its back on them. And it worked, unfortunately. Just to name a few facts

  • There are more Blacks under correctional control (in jail or on probation) than there were slaves in 1850
  • There are more disinfranchised Blacks (due to felony laws) than at the passage of the 15th Amendment that forbade authorities from letting Blacks vote
  • Black children are more likely to be raised in single-parent homes than at the time of slavery
  • Because Blacks were the largest users of crack cocaine, penalties for the drug were 100 times harsher than regular cocaine
  • They are disproportionately represented in drug-related arrests and incarcerations.

Immense Government Corruption

In continuation with the previous point, the War on Drugs has completely corrupted governmetn officials, especially police forces – you can find your daily dose of horror on the subject here.

Indeed, thanks to civil asset forfeiture laws, policement have basically become highway robbers. And even if you are found innocent, you are unlikely to get your stuff back. In many states, they can be aided by drug-sniffing dogs, even thought their failure rate is abysmal and they can be influenced by their masters’ attitude – unless, of course, fake passports have a distinctive smell.

The War on Drugs may also have been the starting point of the militarization of the police. Using surpluses from the numerous U.S. wars, more and more police departments in ever-smaller cities have created SWAT teams, originally formed to deal with situations too big to handle for regular police forces. If it’s the case, then why are 62 percent of SWAT raids drug-related?

In short, the War on Drugs is a failure every way you look at it. It’s unconstitutional, costly, immoral – it’s like imprisoning people failing at committing suicide, and it failed at its objective to control drugs just like Prohibition. It needs to be stopped forthwith or, at least, severely scaled down like Portugal did. The country decided to treat addiction as a health problem rather than a crime, resulting in a dramatic decrease in drug abuse.