By Eric E. Hack, Walden University
American society has benefited in odd ways from the “War on Drugs.” Middle-class, middle-aged, suburbanite property owners clearly feel safer knowing the American government is willing to throw the book at outsiders in possession of small amounts of marijuana. I suppose that level of security and the peace of mind is an indicator of success in the fight against drugs. It allows said people the time to focus on winning yard of the month. Prison populations have exploded as a result of the “war,” creating a need for more prisons, which has helped establish the prison industrial complex (HRW, 2000; Stohr, Walsh, & Hemmens, 2013). A complex that is predominantly privatized, meaning incarcerating people is the business and, therefore, people must be incarcerated in order for the business to stay profitable. The federal government has profited from the “war” by tapping into the drug trade in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and Southwest Asia during the War on Terror in order to finance black operations around the world, by not destroying the drugs (namely heroine) but selling the drugs (McCoy, 2003; Weiner, 2008). This exploitation of the drug market has benefited the American tax payers by reducing the amount of the bill they pick up. Additionally, the federal government has profited immensely in South America from the “war” by partnering with specific cartels and dictators to allocate power and the flow of money into the correct and just pockets of the very U.S. organizations sworn to defeat these groups (Weiner, 2008; Villar & Cottle, 2011).
The world has also benefited from the “War on Drugs.” A 2013 study by the Global Commission on Drug Policy found that “of the 16 million people who inject drugs around the world, an estimated 10 million are living with hepatitis C.” The “war” has helped the spread of blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV as a result of strict national drug policies. “In some of the countries with the harshest drug policies, the majority of people who inject drugs are living with hepatitis C – more than 90 percent in places such as Thailand and parts of the Russian Federation” (GCDP, 2013). The strict and highly punitive drug policies of nations around the world have forced addicts to go further underground, further away from anyway to regulate the drugs and the usage of the drugs. This is truly beneficial to society. After all, global populations are growing dangerously high and the herd probably could use a bit of culling. Along with assisting in population control, the “war” has been instrumental in the exponential growth of the black market, a model of international commerce and trade. “Far from creating a ‘drug-free world’, the war on drugs has fueled the development of the world’s largest illegal commodities market” (TDPF, 2015).
The UN Office on Drug Control (2008) recognizes the creation of this lucrative, over $100 billion-a-year, market as a product of the “war.” The UN led the way in research and findings that the “war on drugs” has increased world health epidemics such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis c, as well as provided support to human trafficking, weapons trafficking, and terrorism (UNDOC, 2008). With such distinguished publicity, this “war,” which has been waged from over 50 years, is quite possibly one of the most influential “wars” in the modern age.
Putting sarcasm and irony aside, what we can conclude from this short glimpse of the results of the “war on drugs” and other prohibitionist movements of this ilk is that, by waging this “war”, we have actually made the problem far worse. We have negatively influenced global health epidemics, the global economy, and global security. In the U.S. alone, nearly 48.7% of our federal prison population is comprised of inmates held on drug related offenses (BOP, 2015). The United States has approximately 2.4 million people incarcerated at any given moment, with approximately 1.04 million in federal facilities and 1.36 million in State run facilities (Kemp, 2014). Applying the metric established by the Bureau of Prisons, we can estimate a little over 500,000 federal inmates and upwards of 660,000 state inmates are incarcerated because of the war on drugs and current drug policies. We have over one million people behind bars as a result of the war on drugs, which continues to grow. This metric does not predict a happy outcome. The economic strain of caring for these levels of prisoners is too much (Stohr et al., 2013). The threat to global health issues is too high (UNDOC, 2008; GCDP, 2014). But, middle-class, middle-aged, suburbanite property owners are safer because the government has kept over a million people associated with drugs out of their immediate communities. The rest of the world falling to pieces is a small price to pay for yard of the month.
How do we come back from this? How do we make the problem smaller? I have no solid answer. The obvious thing to do is to reevaluate our current drug policies. Certain drugs were, as Roth (2011) noted, thrown in with other more serious drugs as a result of puritanical prohibitionist views. Drugs such as marijuana should be decriminalized. It should be regulated as alcohol and tobacco are regulated. Harder drugs should also be more regulated by the government, not more strictly punished. Drug addiction is not a crime worse than murder. Therefore, it should be treated and corrected accordingly. We would do well to look at countries with less strict policies toward drugs to see how they have been able to function so well for so long. Without question, we must deal with drugs and the drug problem. From manufacture to distribution and possession, we need a certain level of policy and appropriate action. There are several more changes that I could suggest that I believe are appropriate; however, this is a topic that requires dialogue, not monologue.
Eric Hack is a doctoral candidate conducting research in the field of Homeland Security Policy and Coordination in the Criminal Justice Department at Walden University. He holds a Master’s of Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Disaster Management from Excelsior College.
Federal Bureau of Prisons. (2015). Inmate statistics: Offenses. Retrieved from http://www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_offenses.jsp
Global Commission on Drug Policy. (2013). The negative impact of the war on drugs on public health: The hidden hepatitis c epidemic. Retrieved from http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/hepatitis/gcdp_hepatitis_english.pdf
Human Rights Watch. (2000). The impact of the war on drugs on U.S. incarcerations. Retrieved from http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/2000/usa/Rcedrg00-05.htm
Kemp, J. (2014). America’s prison population: who, what, where, why. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2014/03/americas-prison-population
McCoy, A. W. (2003). The politics of heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Weiner, T. (2008). Legacy of ashes: a history of the CIA. New York, NY: Anchor Books.
Roth, M. P. (2011). Crime and punishment: A history of the criminal justice system, second edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Stohr, M., Walsh, A., and Hemmens, C. (2013). Corrections: A text reader, second edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Transform Drug Policy Foundation. (2015). Count the costs: 50 years of the war on drugs. Retrieved from http://www.countthecosts.org/sites/default/files/Economics-briefing.pdf
United Nations Office on Drug Control. (2008). World drug report 2008. Retrieved from http://www.unodc.org/unodc/data-and-analysis/WDR-2008.html
Villar, O., and Cottle, D. (2011). Cocaine, death squads, and the War on Terror: U.S. imperialism and class struggle in Columbia. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.