The (Unwinnable) War on Drugs

The "War on Drugs" has been waged in America for decades now, and it's becoming increasingly clear that the tactics used in the "war" haven't been real effective. One reason is that every time drug enforcement agents plug one smuggling hole another one opens up, and often in ingenius ways:

Just when you thought drug running couldn't get more extreme, U.S. border patrol officers find 33 cans of marijuana in the desert near the border that they believe were fired from a cannon in Mexico. Authorities caught wind of the new technique when they received reports of some strange canisters popping up near the Colorado River in southern Arizona recently. Agents arrived at the scene to find the cans which collectively held 85 pounds of marijuana. That's worth $42,500 on the street. By the looks of it, the smugglers had loaded the cans into a pneumatic-powered cannon (think: potato gun) and blasted them 500 yards over the border. Bummer none of their buddies came to pick it up before the police.

So maybe it's time to rethink our tactics like Portugal did ten years ago:

Now, the United States, which has waged a 40-year, $1 trillion war on drugs, is looking for answers in tiny Portugal, which is reaping the benefits of what once looked like a dangerous gamble. White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske visited Portugal in September to learn about its drug reforms, and other countries — including Norway, Denmark, Australia and Peru — have taken interest, too.

“The disasters that were predicted by critics didn’t happen,” said University of Kent professor Alex Stevens, who has studied Portugal’s program. “The answer was simple: Provide treatment.”

Drugs in Portugal are still illegal. But here’s what Portugal did: It changed the law so that users are sent to counseling and sometimes treatment instead of criminal courts and prison. The switch from drugs as a criminal issue to a public health one was aimed at preventing users from going underground.

Other European countries treat drugs as a public health problem, too, but Portugal stands out as the only one that has written that approach into law. The result: More people tried drugs, but fewer ended up addicted.

Later in the story we learn that the US is spending $74 billion on criminal and court proceedings for drug offenders and just $3.6 billion for treatment. Maybe if more emphasis were put on treatment we would see the market for illegal drugs shrink, and demand would eventually fall far enough that smuggling would be less profitable, and the motivation to build cannons capable of blasting barrels filled with drugs hundreds of yards into America would disappear.

Crazy right?

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