Editorial: Ending the war on drugs

In June of 1971, President Nixon declared war … on drugs. This “war” has been expensive and fruitless. Several months ago I wrote an editorial advocating for the legalization of marijuana, but that’s not enough. We should legalize marijuana not because pot is a good thing but because the war on these drugs is much worse. So instead of just legalizing the popular drug, let’s legalize all of them and stop the war entirely.

This sounds like an extreme libertarian ideal of personal freedom, but I’m by no means a libertarian. The simple fact is: our policy of prohibition didn’t work during the ‘20s and it’s not working now. We spend roughly $500 every second on this prohibition, and yet it has only a one percent efficiency rate at halting the distribution of drugs. No matter what we do we cannot stop the use of drugs in this country.

That is the end goal. A drug-free world. Not very attainable if you ask me. This goal makes the policy hypocritical. Are tobacco and alcohol not drugs? Alcohol kills more people every year than most of the illegal drugs combined. However, I do not argue that we should legalize heroin because alcohol is worse.

I advocate the legalization of heroin and other hard drugs because the current method of “treatment” -- imprisonment -- does not successfully solve the problem. We treat addicts like criminals when in reality, we should treat them as medical patients. By making addicts criminals, we isolate them from society. They struggle to find jobs with a criminal record and relapse because their old life of drugs is the only life they know.

Two theories of addiction currently persist in the scientific community. The first, which seems to be what our government follows, states that addiction is purely chemical. By ingesting certain chemicals, our brain and body grow dependent on them psychologically and physically. This theory isn’t completely wrong, but new experiments make addiction more complicated. In the past, we studied addiction by placing a rat in a cage and giving him the option between drinking water or water laced with a drug such as heroin or cocaine. The rats would always consume the drugged water until death. In the ‘70s, however, the psychologist Bruce Alexander tried something new. He wanted to simulate true society in the experiment. Instead of locking a rat in a cage by itself, Alexander put many rats in Rat Park, a large cage with colored balls to play with, and tunnels to scamper through. In the previous experiments, all the rat could do was get high and die. In this new experiment, with plenty of activities to occupy the rats time including sex with other rats, none of the rats overdosed.

A similar experiment took place with humans in Vietnam. 20% of soldiers in Vietnam were using heroin, and yet a study followed these veterans home, and 95% of them didn’t even go through withdrawal. The old theory of addiction can’t explain this, but Professor Alexander’s does. The soldiers were going from the first cage in Vietnam to Alexander’s Rat Park back home with friends and family. We, as humans, must form bonds. We can form healthy bonds with friends and family, or we can form bonds with drugs which can lead to addiction. These drugs can just as easily be shopping, video games, the internet, smartphones, pornography as they can be cocaine. We do not let addicts form healthy bonds when we lock them behind bars. We should treat them as medical patients. Provide therapy and medical assistance. So far we have preferred demonizing them with criminal records.

I would like to point out that we jail a lot of people for drug offenses. Since Reagan’s presidency and the beginning of tough on addicts laws, the number of jailed people has skyrocketed. The US is now responsible for just five percent of the world’s population yet 25% of its incarcerated people. Think about that the next time you complain about what your tax dollars are funding.

I am almost humored thinking about how much of a failure the war on drugs has been. The war on drugs is the best thing that ever happened to drug cartels. They couldn’t have existed to the extent that they do today without our policies. When we illegalized drugs, we expected the use of them to decline. This conflicts with everything we know about drugs. They’re addictive. They will always be consumed. Because they’re illegal, however, cartels can charge more for the additional legal risk and difficulty of distribution, but, unlike most products, drug consumption is not price dependent. They will always be consumed no matter how expensive. Cartels received a profit surge from the war on drugs. This makes them more powerful than ever and Latin America is paying for it. We all know Mexico struggles with drug cartels, cartels that become enormous militarized empires from drugs sold to Americans. Ironically, the war on drugs may have made drugs more available.

We have seen this before. The modern cartels are no different from the organized crime of the ‘20s. Al Capone made his fortune from bootlegging. I don’t understand how we think the war on drugs is working when even my own AP American History textbook states, “Prohibition simply did not prohibit.” Prohibition does not work. It didn’t work 85 years ago, and it doesn’t work now.

When we spend $15-30 billion a year on a policy with one percent efficiency, we should accept that it’s not working. We shouldn’t legalize drugs because drugs are good. Although a few drugs are over demonized, most are still serious issues. Drugs are generally bad. Nevertheless, the war on said drugs is worse. Let’s stop pretending the prohibition is doing any good and end it.

Due to timing constraints, this editorial was not presented to the full editorial board for review. However, it represents the opinion of its lead author, opinion editor Aaron Davies. It does not constitute an opinion of the Lampeter-Strasburg School District, nor the advisor of LSNews.org. Questions or concerns can be directed to lspioneernews@gmail.com.

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