It’s probably time to stop declaring war on things. The U.S. government declared war on drugs in the 1970s, and 50 years on we’re still struggling with many of the very same issues that gave rise to the call to war in the first place.
While the statistics get a little slippery, nailing and jailing doesn’t appear to have had an appreciable effect on rates of addiction. This approach has also become intolerably expensive as the years have worn on. As a result, there’s now some bipartisan political agreement that the war on drugs – as well intended as it may have been – has not achieved its expected outcomes.
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None of this is to say we should throw up our hands and walk away, though. The point is to learn from what’s gone before and then develop more rational policies that reduce the harmful effects of drugs on society, without going bankrupt or locking up millions of people unnecessarily in the process.
Is Decriminalization the Answer?
Other countries, such as Portugal, have taken a very radical path to this end (PDF). Decriminalization in that country, which some claimed would lead to widespread increases in drug use and abuse, as well as increases in crime, has actually had a beneficial effect on the drug problem and related social ills. According to the Cato Institute’s assessment:
[D]ata indicate that decriminalization has had no adverse effect on drug usage rates in Portugal, which, in numerous categories, are now among the lowest in the EU, particularly when compared with states with stringent criminalization regimes. Although postdecriminalization usage rates have remained roughly the same or even decreased slightly when compared with other EU states, drug-related pathologies — such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage — have decreased dramatically. Drug policy experts attribute those positive trends to the enhanced ability of the Portuguese government to offer treatment programs to its citizens — enhancements made possible, for numerous reasons, by decriminalization.
What About Drug Courts?
Short of decriminalization, the U.S. has been increasingly turning to specialized criminal courts to address the problem of drug abuse. The infographic at right describes three key outcomes achieved by Drug Courts in recent years:
- Lowered drug use
- Reductions in criminal behavior
- Less expense
Those would seem to be the exact goals a rational drug policy would want to achieve.
Now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on drug wars, drug policies, decriminalization, and drug courts?
Comment below or vote in this week’s poll!
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