OPINION: The war on drugs has been a colossal waste – Anchorage Daily News

FILE – In this Oct. 11, 1982 file photo, first lady Nancy Reagan speaks at the first national conference of the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth in Washington. “Many people think drug prevention is ‘just say no,’ like Nancy Reagan did in the ’80s, and we know that did not work,” said Becky Vance, CEO of the Texas-based agency Drug Prevention Resources, which has advocated for evidenced-based anti-drug and alcohol abuse education for more than 85 years. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma, File)
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the “War on Drugs.” Mainly about the absolute insanity of it. Because slavery was the outright embrace of evil, I suppose slavery was America’s stupidest public policy ever. But other than that, in the history of this country, there has never been a stupider public policy than the war on drugs. Nothing else comes close.
What prompts this tirade today is a new research study that projects that by 2029, just seven years from now, another 1 million Americans will be dead from drug overdoses. That will bring the total to 2 million dead. Two million dead Americans is a breathtaking number. The amount of heartbreak and tragedy that number represents to me and my fellow citizens is hard to comprehend. I guess that’s why we all try not to think about it.
The lethal, unsuccessful, perpetually wasteful war on drugs has been going on for 30 years.
Other than the bodies of millions of Americans, what else has the war on drugs gotten us? You and I and every American have had hundreds of billions of our tax dollars diverted into a gigantic rathole of law enforcement, judicial process and prisons.
We could have chosen to spend that money on health care, infrastructure, education, transportation, child care, research science or space exploration. On any of a long, long list of better choices.
The war on drugs may be the greatest waste of money in the history of the world. We would be better off if we’d spent that money building a string of gold-plated pyramids from Los Angeles to New York. At least we’d have a tourist attraction at the end of it all.
The war on drugs has accomplished exactly nothing. Well, maybe not nothing. It’s been a bonanza for the prison business. It’s been a handy way for cops and customs officers, Border Patrol agents, lawyers and politicians to supplement their pay and claim a pension. It has created some of the richest criminals ever. It has done more to promote public corruption, both at home and abroad, than the most malignant criminal mastermind could ever have dreamed. And there is no end in sight.
I would love to to sit down with anyone who is ostensibly in charge of and in favor of the war on drugs and ask a few simple questions: How does the war on drugs end? What does victory look like? When do we expect to achieve it?
Can any current or past administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration answer those questions? How about any hardline anti-drug U.S. senator or member of the House of Representatives? How about the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security? How about the president?
I’ll tell you the answers they should give but don’t dare.
The war on drugs will end when enough American voters recognize the insanity of what we’re doing and demand an end to it.
I suppose they might say it will end when there is absolutely no demand in America for any illegal drug, which is just a long way of saying “never.”
Or maybe they’ll say it’ll end when we have imprisoned or killed everyone anywhere in the world willing to make money by selling an illegal drug to an American, which is also a long way of saying “never.”
The war on drugs could end when our politicians are no longer too frightened to stand up and say, “This isn’t working. This won’t work. This is an obscene waste of money.” Drug addicts are “criminals” because somebody arbitrarily decided their frailty and need to self-medicate ought to be a crime.
Drug addicts are criminals in the same sense that alcoholics or gambling addicts are criminals. The obvious answer for all three is treatment, not prison or death.
But our politicians will remain cowards, afraid of us – their ill-informed, simple-minded and unjustifiably vengeful constituents. And on our behalf, they will keep wasting tens of billions – if not hundreds of billions – of dollars, devastating millions of lives on a treadmill of mistreatment, imprisonment, killing and corruption.
And you will pay for it all. As did your parents. As will your children.
Pat Dougherty retired as executive editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He now writes for the website TrueNorth61.org.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.
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