Associated Press: After 40 Years, $1 Trillion, US Drug War “Has Failed to Meet Any of Its Goals”

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MikeK's picture

Just days after the White House released its inherently flawed 2010 National Drug Control Strategy (Read NORML’s refutation of it on The Huffington Post here and here.), and mere hours after Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske told reporters at the National Press Club, “I have read thoroughly the ballot proposition in California; I think I once got an e-mail that told me I won the Irish sweepstakes and that actually had more truth in it than the ballot proposition,” the Associated Press takes the entire U.S. drug war strategy and rakes it over the coals.


AP IMPACT: After 40 years, $1 trillion, US War on Drugs has failed to meet any of its goals.

After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.

“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

Seriously, if you care at all about drug policy and marijuana law reform, you really must read the entire AP analysis. It’s that good.

In 1970, hippies were smoking pot and dropping acid. Soldiers were coming home from Vietnam hooked on heroin. Embattled President Richard M. Nixon seized on a new war he thought he could win.

“This nation faces a major crisis in terms of the increasing use of drugs, particularly among our young people,” Nixon said as he signed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. The following year, he said: “Public enemy No. 1 in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.”

His first drug-fighting budget was $100 million. Now it’s $15.1 billion, 31 times Nixon’s amount even when adjusted for inflation.

Using Freedom of Information Act requests, archival records, federal budgets and dozens of interviews with leaders and analysts, the AP tracked where that money went, and found that the United States repeatedly increased budgets for programs that did little to stop the flow of drugs. In 40 years, taxpayers spent more than:

— $20 billion to fight the drug gangs in their home countries. In Colombia, for example, the United States spent more than $6 billion, while coca cultivation increased and trafficking moved to Mexico — and the violence along with it.

— $33 billion in marketing “Just Say No”-style messages to America’s youth and other prevention programs. High school students report the same rates of illegal drug use as they did in 1970, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says drug overdoses have “risen steadily” since the early 1970s to more than 20,000 last year.

— $49 billion for law enforcement along America’s borders to cut off the flow of illegal drugs. This year, 25 million Americans will snort, swallow, inject and smoke illicit drugs, about 10 million more than in 1970, with the bulk of those drugs imported from Mexico.

— $121 billion to arrest more than 37 million nonviolent drug offenders, about 10 million of them for possession of marijuana. Studies show that jail time tends to increase drug abuse.

— $450 billion to lock those people up in federal prisons alone. Last year, half of all federal prisoners in the U.S. were serving sentences for drug offenses.

At the same time, drug abuse is costing the nation in other ways. The Justice Department estimates the consequences of drug abuse — “an overburdened justice system, a strained health care system, lost productivity, and environmental destruction” — cost the United States $215 billion a year.

Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron says the only sure thing taxpayers get for more spending on police and soldiers is more homicides.

“Current policy is not having an effect of reducing drug use,” Miron said, “but it’s costing the public a fortune.”


The so-called ‘war’ on some drugs — which is really a war on consumers of certain temporarily mood-altering substances, mainly marijuana, can not survive if continually faced with this kind of scrutiny. Even the Drug Czar — when faced with the actual evidence and data above — folds his cards immediately, acknowledging that U.S. criminal drug enforcement “has not been successful.” Yet apparently neither he, nor the majority of Congress, the President, the bulk of law enforcement officials, or any of the tens of thousands of bureaucrats in Washington, DC have the stones to stand up and put a stop to it.

And that is — and always has been — the problem.

And so the drums of war beat on, and the casualties mount.

Isn’t it about time that we all said: “Enough is enough?“


"Americans will know they have an honest President when he or she aggressively promotes the legalization of marijuana and a review of the War on Drugs!"  (Federal Judge Robert W. Sweet)


DRC's picture
I keep asking the fiscal

I keep asking the fiscal conservatives and Tea Party folk when they want to stop the futile spending and get government out of our stashes.  They think hippies and Mexicans like weed so it is not for real Americans.  

Lot of money flows to police departments and rehab programs based on crappy premises instead of good therapeutic models.  Just Say No so you don't have to think.

We have to create the conditions on the ground that can allow candidates to be against the War on Drugs without being "for" using drugs.  The big futile waste of taxes and people ought to be a populist issue.  We cannot afford the War on Drugs.  Mexico would be very happy if we ended it too.

stwo's picture
Perhaps the Tea partiers you

Perhaps the Tea partiers you "keep asking" oppose decriminalization- that's 100% out of phase with my experience.  Those tea partiers I meet and correspond with want marijuana decriminalized and a great many of us consume it. 

Criminalized marijuana use

Criminalized marijuana use feeds the drug cartels. They'd be the first to oppose its legalization. They'd shudder at the thought of marijuana ciggs being sold at the local liquor store...packaged by the American Tobacco Co.or Phillip Morris.

Drug wars have fed drug use....a boon to drug dealers. They pass out free samples every day...creating new addicts, new customers.

Sell hard drugs cheaper than drug dealers through government pharmacies...and offer free rehab. Drug dealers wouldn't have an incentive to create more customers. They'd be driven out of business Over time, drug use would go down rather than contiuning to increase..

Retired Monk - "Ideology is a disease"

Kerry's picture
The problems with our recent

The problems with our recent 'wars' is that our 'enemy' is an idea--not a state.  'Terrorism', 'drug use', etc......

Of course, the paradigm of 'war' implies that we are 'fighting it'--and, in 'fighting it' we must be 'doing something about it', aren't we?  

When I read that report in the Huffington Post a couple of days ago, it just confirmed my belief that 'war' can't be waged on an 'idea' and we think we can 'beat it'.....but, that doesn't stop the government from appropriating money to 'keep fighting it'--and incarcerate more people in our country than any other advanced country in the world.....

I agree with the gnostics on this, 'ignorance' may be the 'sin' that underlines all sins.....and a government acting ignorantly is still 'missing the mark'....

DRC's picture
The idea that "the moral

The idea that "the moral equivalent of war" should motivate us to concentrated and mobilized action on a serious social problem is what Carter urged.  Making that into fighting a metaphorical "war" on almost anything is a mistake.  The only "war" that worked was Johnson's anti-poverty campaign.  It was ended because it was working.

The big problem is that war is not, as commonly stated, "the extension of politics by other means."  It is the failure of politics, what happens when the resolve to do the politics is absent because it necessity has not been established in the political consciousness.  When "treaties" break down and "lead to war," there are many political sins involved.

Prohibition makes no sense at all on the record of its effect.  The War on Drugs is where the crime on the border comes in, not from workers seeking to get to El Norte.  The labor smugglers can be a problem, and the illegal employers are the problem.  But drugs are money and control of the trade includes violence.

It is interesting that the sheriffs of Nogales and Tucson both oppose the new law and cite problems it will create for law enforcement.  They do not report the same crime wave at the border that we hear about from those living 150 miles to the North.  One wonders when one hears from some screaming psycho calling in what they think of their professional law enforcement officers and why they want to cause so much trouble for them.  I think this "crime scare on the border" is bs.

End the War on Drugs for every good reason.  Go Portugal!

reed9's picture
A number of years ago, a

A number of years ago, a former Chief of Police in Seattle, Norm Stamper, wrote an op-ed advocating legalizing all drugs.  It's a good read.

You can find the piece here.  The beginning is great...

Sometimes people in law enforcement will hear it whispered that I'm a former cop who favors decriminalization of marijuana laws, and they'll approach me the way they might a traitor or snitch. So let me set the record straight.

Yes, I was a cop for 34 years, the last six of which I spent as chief of Seattle's police department.

But no, I don't favor decriminalization. I favor legalization, and not just of pot but of all drugs, including heroin, cocaine, meth, psychotropics, mushrooms and LSD.

DRC's picture
Some fear that "legalization"

Some fear that "legalization" will mean commercial control instead of personal rights.  The argument for "decriminalization" is that it keeps it in more of a personal liberty and growing scale instead of a commercial product with regulations like booze.

The important facts are that ending all drug war policies has lowered drug use in Portugal and the Netherlands.  In addition to the money saved by not being wasted on the War on Drugs, the problem itself is Prohibition more than the substances.

On that score, while I favor decriminalization and the provision of powders in reliable doses, I do not regard any plant as the problem.  Coca chewed is not a problem.  Cocaine is.  Same with the opiates.  The problem is their intensity.  Sensuality is not achieved by amping up the sensational.  What "feels good" depends on whether one can feel at all.  If you are checking out whether you can still feel anything, you will get to the meth stage.

This is why I always began "drug therapy" approaches by putting the person ahead of the addiction.  It is about why someone is using something that is not really "working" for them.  Why does anyone want to go into a heroin isolation?  Why does anyone "need" to feel the power of meth?  And it is why the strategy of providing the drugs and establishing a human contact with the addict works.  At some point the addict is likely to tell the provider that getting off the drugs sounds better than taking them.

Recreational and medical pot is better than beer, but that does not mean that beer is bad.  Too much is.  Too much pot is just more reason to sleep.  And the drug testing is crap.  Unless we are talking about operating dangerous machinery, flying planes, etc., unless there is visible evidence of bad work performance, why snoop into the private life?  If someone is drunk at work the work will suffer.  Smoking pot can help me concentrate, or not.  It depends on how much I want to do the job.  If I am ready to go, it is great for focus.  If I want to avoid or delay, it is great for that too.

It is the only substance I know that goes well with playing music.  

bufffalo1's picture
As with all war (including

As with all war (including the so-called war on terror) the money is in fighting the war, not winning it.

Norm Stamper was quite the

Norm Stamper was quite the police cheif......

The Battle in Seattle was his swan song of brilliant decision making. Maybe he was stoned?

Thank God Stamper and Paul Schell were run out on a rail after that fiasco.

DRC's picture
No, if you would listen to

No, if you would listen to him instead of making bad jokes based on ignorance, you would appreciate how much he learned from the stupidity of the Battle approach.  He was not exactly free to decide not to go with the "strong police presence" the 'experts' recommended.  

His conclusion was that it was very bad policy and he would not go along with it in the future.  That was probably enough to end his career as chief in itself.  He makes very good law enforcement cases against the War on Drugs.

I had to endure his

I had to endure his leadership of the police force long enough. Both he and Schell were dumbshits and it showed when it mattered.

If Stamper can make a buck in retirement promoting his book about smoking pot, more power to him.

reed9's picture
He admitted he made mistakes

He admitted he made mistakes with WTO.

drew013's picture
DRC wrote:   It is the only

DRC wrote:


It is the only substance I know that goes well with playing music.  

Hmmm... Different instrument, different playing style... same result.  Must be universal.  I agree.

Drug War-- Mission

Drug War-- Mission Accomplished !!!--1) Jailed Hundreds of thousands of minorities 2)removed marijuana as a safe recreational drug and made billions for alcoholic beverage companies 3)appeased religious  fundamentalists 4) removed marijuana from consideration as a medicine and made billions for Big Pharma  and anti-depressants 5) divided Americans into another "us vs. them'' mentality 6) demonized Taliban,Columbia,Mexico etc.  for our drug "problem''.                              The War on Drugs is a win for business . It is a win for a government that wants to control you ,your thoughts and consciousness. California will Legalize marijuana in November . When millions are free to use marijuana there will be a leap in collective compassion and we will change the world. Yes,We Cannabis .

DRC's picture
Hey scottpot, as we say up

Hey scottpot, as we say up North here in Oregon, "this bud's for you."

drew013's picture
I'll take one of each. Thank

I'll take one of each.

Thank You.