Every year, countless people go to jail for using drugs. Every year, millions and even billions of dollars are spent on tracking, arresting, and jailing those people. And every year, drug use continues undaunted, as endless demand always finds willing suppliers.
According to DrugSense.org “The U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion dollars in 2010 on the War on Drugs, at a rate of about $500 per second.” This year, the US has spent over $38 billion combined at the federal, state, and local levels.
Canada – while not spending as much proportionally, still spent $2 billion on drug law enforcement. According to the Health Officer’s Council of BC, “For every $5 spent on drug rehabilitation by the Canadian government, $95 is spent on incarceration of drug users.”
The spending goes on and on, people lose their freedom, yet the problem goes unsolved. Clearly, treating drug use and drug demand as a criminal issue has failed miserably. Instead of actually helping people, drug policies have been based on a failed moral crusade that has cost lives and wasted money.
Things have to change. Here are 3 reasons why it’s time to end the criminalization of drugs:
1) Criminalizing drugs has failed to make drugs less accessible:
According to the Guardian, “A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2013 found that despite efforts to limit the supply of these drugs, since 1990 prices have fallen while the purity of the drugs has increased. The trends were similar in the US and in Europe. The authors’ conclusion was clear: “These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing.”
A Brookings Institute report showed that despite having a much more punitive drug strategy than Europe, “In fact, drug consumption rates for hard drugs are several times higher in the United States than in all the all the European countries discussed.”
2) Legal drugs are killing more people than illegal drugs:
We can’t even stop legal drugs such as alcohol and prescription drugs from causing terrible damage, so why do think we can stop illegal drugs? We recognize that alcohol and prescription drugs are better off being regulated rather than being pushed onto the dangerous black market. Why do we ignore that wisdom when it comes to illegal substances?
A report on prescription drugs by Psychology Today is worth quoting at length:
“Drug overdose death rates in the United States have more than tripled since 1990 and have never been higher. At least 100 people die from drug overdoses every day in the U.S. More than 36,000 people die from drug overdoses annually and most of these deaths are caused by prescription drugs (1).
Contrary to popular mythology, prescription drugs are more lethal than illegal or street drugs. Prescription drug abuse and addiction kill far more people in the U.S. every year than all illegal drugs combined.
The unprecedented rise in overdose deaths in the U.S. parallels a 300 percent increase since 1999 in the sale of powerful painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin. These drugs were involved in 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, more than cocaine and heroin combined (2).
The misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers was responsible for more than 475,000 emergency department visits in 2009, a number that nearly doubled in just five years (3).”
3) The failed criminalization of drugs takes money away from those who need help:
The massive wasted spending on failed drug laws is money that can’t be spent on helping people overcome addiction and get treatment. Imagine if all those billions of dollars were spent on expanding treatment programs, and education on the dangers of different substances. Drunk driving rates and the rates of alcohol being used during pregnancy declined massively due to education ad campaigns. Smoking has declined due to regulation, taxes, and advertising restrictions.
So the way to reduce substance abuse is obvious. Stop wasting money on criminalization, get the substance out of the black market, regulate it, and provide support for those who wish to quit.
That’s the approach we need to take for all those drugs that are currently illegal. The old way has failed miserably. It’s time to end the criminalization of drugs.