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“War on drugs” costs more than it’s worth

The Parthenon

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 22:01

It is no secret that the United States has a drug problem. The main problem in my opinion is not about the drugs themselves, but what the government has done for four decades to attempt to police them.

In 1971, Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs,” which was essentially an all-out offensive to keep illegal drugs out of America, and to arrest anyone who is found with them in America. Every president since Nixon has continued to fund and manage this very costly war.

The most shocking part about the War on Drugs is how much money we are spending on it.  Between state and federal governments, this taxpayer-funded program costs Americans tens of billions of dollars every single year. There are even “drug clocks” on the internet which update in real time, showing how much we have spent on this program yearly, monthly, and daily.  
Law enforcement and the prison system are two other aspects of society which are burdened both fundamentally and financially by the War on Drugs.

The number of arrests for drug law offences in America reached an all-time high in 2012, surpassing 2009’s mark of 1.6 million. It is also very expensive to hold a person in prison, so tax-payers are funding both the arrests and the prison sentences of these non-violent offenders.

Financial problems within the War on Drugs are not only limited to tax-payers.  Illegal drugs fetch a hefty price on the streets. This provides dangerous people with an opportunity to make lots of money and gain incredible power.  Gangs, drug cartels, and crime rings all benefit from the fact that Americans can’t get drugs anywhere else. While the government sometimes publicizes the capture of a drug cartel in Mexico or South America, this doesn’t ever add up to anything more than money poorly spent. That is because there is such a huge profit margin available in drug sales, profit that is available to anyone who is willing to take the risk of getting caught.

As long as there is a demand for drugs in America, there is going to be someone waiting to step up and supply it.

It is also easier for children to get their hands on illegal drugs than it is for them to get a six pack of beer. That is obviously because drug dealers do not have to worry about things like checking identification.

The biggest issue I have with all of this is the hypocrisy of it. Some drugs are perfectly legal to and are governmentally taxed and supported, and some are not. It is fine for us to have alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, but it is not okay for us to have heroin, cocaine and in most cases, marijuana.

Is it really the government’s job to tell us what we can put into our own bodies?
Essentially I am arguing, if you cannot tell already, that the War on Drugs is not stopping the sale of or the use of drugs, nor is it cleaning up the streets.

What it is doing is costing hard-working Americans billions of dollars per year, and crowding our prisons with people who have not harmed or disturbed anyone else. People are always going to be able to get what they want, be it through a black market or a convenience store. The available profit margins make it a lucrative business for criminals, and it should not be the government’s job to babysit and punish its citizens for making a bad, but otherwise harmless decision.

Tristan Smith can be contacted at

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