FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Op Ed: Decriminalizing drugs will save lives and money
by R. Lee Wrights
BURNET, Texas (Aug. 24) – Whenever anyone suggests that the War on Drugs is a failure and it is time to decriminalize most drugs, they are immediately accused of wanting to allow anyone, even “the children” to use and abuse drugs. The moral busybodies scream, “If we legalize drugs, people will drive while stoned, we’ll have tens of thousand of addicts who’ll become parasites on society, we’ll have drug babies, and millions will die!” But that’s what we have now – and the War on Drugs, not the drugs themselves are largely to blame.
This is a typical tactic used by those who have no sane, reasonable or factual argument to defend their view; when the facts aren’t on your side, attack the other side, question their motives, demonize them, and never, ever admit they may hold sincere beliefs. Like most Americans, I believe the War on Drugs is a failure and should end. Do I want children to use drugs? Of course not; not my children, not anyone’s children. Nor do I want anyone, especially children, to eat foods that are not good for them, to drive too fast, or to stand out in the cold until they come down with pneumonia. But I am not willing to use force to stop them, or throw them in jail if they persist in such behavior.
There is no question that decriminalizing drugs will not only save lives, it will save money. The federal government spent more than $15 billion dollars in 2010 on the War on Drugs according to Office of National Drug Control Policy. That’s at a rate of about $500 per second, as calculated by Drug Sense, the award-winning non-profit group incorporated in 1995 to inform citizens and encourage involvement in drug policy reform, in their Drug War Clock.
Drug legalization could cut government spending by about $41.3 billion annually, according to a recent report issued by the Cato Institute. About $25.7 billion of this savings could be made by state and local governments. One city has already realized such savings. Philadelphia stopped arresting small time marijuana consumers, imposing a fine and mandatory drug-awareness classes instead, and saved more than $2 million, according to the Philadelphia News. In addition, states (in 2007) spent $6.2 billion keeping people in prison for drug offenses and an estimated $6.3 million on federal prisons, where 55 percent of the inmates are incarcerated for drug offenses. While these figures are merely small drops in the bucket when it comes to skyrocketing federal spending and out-of-control federal debt, stopping this wasteful spending would be a small step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, a stumbling block to any step in the right direction is the myth that ending the War on Drugs will result in an increase of drug use. This lie is reported as fact even though quite the opposite has been shown to be true in real life. For example, Portugal’s experience demonstrated that usage, especially among teens, actually dropped (“Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies”).
Portugal decriminalized all drugs, including heroin, in July 2001. While it was still against the law to posses or use drugs, violators were not treated as criminals. This did not result in an increase in drug use, as critics of the policy predicted. After seven years drug use rates were lower in Portugal than in any other European Union nation, where drug use rates are skyrocketing even in those countries with tough drug laws. In fact, most EU states have double or triple the drug use rates of Portugal. Decriminalization freed up money for drug rehabilitation programs, so more people came forward to seek treatment without fear of being sent to jail, and drug-related mortality decreased.
Despite increasingly punitive drug laws, despite putting more people in jail for nonviolent drug offenses than any other nation, the United States has the highest level of illegal cocaine and cannabis use in the world, a study in Science Daily reports. Countries with far more liberal polices have much lower use rates. In the Netherlands the percent of people who have used cocaine in their lifetime is at 1.9 percent, in contrast to the U.S. rate of 16.2 percent; cannabis use was at 42.4 percent in the U.S., compared to only 19.8 percent in Holland, in spite of the fact that adults in Amsterdam can go to “coffee shops” which feature a wide selection of cannabis products.
The surest way to pull the financial rung out from under the street gangs, international drug cartels and terrorist organizations, the only people who profit from the War on Drugs, is to legalize the product they sell so that no one would have to murder or steal to support a $100 a day habit. If we are serious about saving “the children” from drive-by shootings and want to get drugs out of the schools, then the best way to do this to slash the profits of drug pushers. The most effective and efficient way to change people’s behavior so that they avoid harmful drug use is through persuasion, not force, by treating drug abuse as a health problem, not a crime, and showing those caught in the drug trap a better way to live.
My friend Ron Crickenberger was right. The War on Drugs has turned a couple of plants into extremely lucrative black market commodities that are sometimes literally worth more than their weight in gold. Not because these plants are particularly rare and hard to find. Not because they are too expensive or difficult to cultivate. These simple plants are considered so valuable only because some relatively small group of bureaucrats somewhere has declared them illegal substances. These same bureaucrats send users to prisons where they are locked up and guarded 24/7 – and still they use drugs. If the government cannot keep drugs out of its prisons, how can we possibly hope that bureaucrats will keep drugs out of the country? This madness should have ended years ago. Stopping the War on Drugs is an economic and humane public policy whose time is long over due.