View From Lodi, CA: The War on Drugs—$$$ Billions Down the Rat Hole
January 06, 2006, 04:00 AM
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How many Americans, I wonder, can name the United States Drug Czar.

I know I couldn't—even though I follow issues in Washington, D.C. with above-average interest.

The czar's name is John Walters and his real title is Director of National Drug Control Policy.

Given that he has held his position for five years but that few outside the beltway know who he is, Walters must be the most obscure bureaucrat in Washington.

And there's good reason Walters is unknown. His agency has been, for the most part, completely ineffective. When measured on a dollar spent versus results achieved ratio, the N.D.C.P. has been, if you will forgive the pun, a complete "bust."

A fortune is spent on the so-called War on Drugs. During 2003, the federal government laid out $19 billion; state and local governments, another $30 billion.

According to the drug war clock, the feds spend $600 dollars a second on their effort to curb drug use, mainly marijuana—the illegal substance of choice in the United States.

Yet overwhelming evidence exists that virtually every penny of this money is wasted.

Starting at its inception in 1968, when Richard Nixon adopted a law and order campaign to divert the nation's attention from the Vietnam War, the fight to rein in drug trafficking has bombed.

Boston University economist Jeffrey A. Miron, in a new report commissioned by the Taxpayers for Common Sense, estimates that the federal government spent an aggregate of $257 billion dollars over the last three decades to curb drug usage.

To that princely sum, tack on an additional $4 billion in fiscal year 2004 for failed programs designed to educate the public about marijuana.

Despite the billions spent, Miron concludes that, "Marijuana-use rates are little different than they were in 1975."

Wrote Miron:

"Historical data show little change over time in the number of people using marijuana or the perceptions of marijuana's harmfulness or availability. These numbers illustrate a clear failure on the part of federal programs designed to eliminate marijuana use and distribution.

The ultimate measure of the drug war's worth is its impact on drug usage. By this standard, the federal marijuana program has fared poorly. Rather than continue to spend billions of dollars on the problem, it would be better for the U.S, government to get out of the marijuana business entirely."

Then there is the War on Drugs' indirect cost.

The Marijuana Policy Project, a non-profit that lobbies to minimize "the consumption of marijuana and the laws that are intended to prohibit such use" broke down the U.S. Justice Department 2004 arrest statistics to find that the 684,319 marijuana possession arrests totaled more than for all violent crimes combined.

In 1996, a decade ago, author Dan Baum wrote what is the definitive book about the War on Drugs titled, Smoke and Mirrors: the War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure.

The summary on the book jacket reads:

"For sheer government absurdity, America's war on drugs is hard to beat. After three decades of increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are more easily available, drug potencies are greater, and drug barons are richer than ever. The war on drugs costs Washington more than the Commerce, Interior, and State departments combined — and a strangled court system, exploding prisons, and wasted lives push the cost beyond measure."

[JOENOTE TO VDARE.COM READERS: Baum wrote a great book about the War on Drugs but he is sadly misinformed about immigration. See my two columns that reference Baum and his pro-open border philosophy: Amnesty According To Rolling Stone And Gangbox.com and Rolling Stone vs. American Workers].

Just as sobering as the lack of results in the War on Drugs is that the federal government shows no indication of spending less money or altering its policies one iota. Instead, it is determined to send good money after bad.

With the national debt currently standing at $8 trillion and predicted to hit $11 trillion by 2010, the Congress is morally obligated to eliminate wasteful programs.

Hesitant Congressmen should not think that recommending severe cuts in the War on Drugs budget is an indication of being soft on crime or being pro-drugs.

The American people deserve better. Washington needs to think along different lines and open a discussion that includes the possibility of decriminalizing drug use.

Speaking as someone who comes from a family where some abused drugs, I know first hand that the War on Drugs doesn't work.

My relatives needed help, not jail time.

Let's try honest drug education and treatment for those who want it. The goal should be to help those addicted to drugs to find a way to get clean and not to throw them in the slammer.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.