Cleaning Hearts and Minds: America’s War on Drugs

What would prove to be the United States’ longest war started in 1971, when Richard Nixon declared war on America’s public enemy No. 1: drugs. Since then, the budget invested in the drug war has multiplied by 30, which amounts to $15 billion dollars being invested under the Obama administration. The total direct and indirect costs are even greater and are estimated to be a mind-boggling $1 trillion for the United States alone. 

The consequences of international drug trade can’t be expressed merely in terms of money. Every  year, thousands of people die because of drug related violence, terrorist groups around the world use drug money to finance their killings, and countless lives are destroyed by the use of illicit drugs. Now, are drug producers, dealers and users losing the battle? The opposite appears to be true. The relative number of drug users has remained roughly the same throughout the years, with an estimate of 200 million people using illegal drugs in 2010. In the United States alone,  about 150 tons of cocaine are consumed annually.  Prosecuting everyone who has something to do with drugs clearly doesn’t help, but what will solve the problem then? One proposal that may appear logical to some, but impossible to many, has gained support over the last years.

”What scares me is drug trafficking, not drugs”. These are the words of José Mujica, president of Uruguay. What makes drugs such as cocaine, heroin and marijuana a lucrative trade is the fact that they are illegal. The largest profits can’t be made from oil, gold or diamonds but from cocaine. A kilogram of pure cocaine costs $1300 at a farm in Columbia and a staggering $400,000 on the streets of Europe and North America. The war on drugs has failed, prohibiting drugs is not the solution, regulating them is. This is the message put forward in 2011 by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which counts Kofi Annan, Javier Solana and Ronald Reagan amongst its members. Narcotics are not expensive because they are costly to produce, no, the price is based on the risk the producers and dealers take in bringing their product to the consumer. Regulate the flow of drugs, and this risk premium is gone. According to the Commission the only way to put an end to the destruction caused by drugs, is by allowing them. Of course, narcotics are dangerous,  but 40 years after the beginning of the war on drugs, eradication seems to be impossible.

In 1954, Aldous Huxley wrote his book, ”The Doors of Perception”, on his experiences with hallucinogens and how they helped to see things in a completely different way. Perhaps it is time for those waging the war against drugs, to open their doors of perception and realize that maybe, the only chance we have of winning the longest war in modern history, is by not winning it at all.

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