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A Winning Argument in 60 Seconds: End the War on Drugs

We’re no closer to solving this problem than we were 20 or 30 years ago.

Whenever anybody asks me whether the drug war is working or not it seems to me the answer is obvious.  The war on drugs has been a monstrous failure.  It has failed at its own stated objectives which is essentially to reduce the number of people using drugs.  

It has failed in all the ways that alcohol prohibition failed 70-80 years ago times five or ten or 50.  We now have half a million people behind bars for violating a drug law.  We have over one-and-a-half million people arrested each year.  

We have continuing problems with the number of people dying of an overdose. Last year it was equal to the number of people dying from an auto fatality.  It used to be a three to one ratio between auto fatalities and drug overdoses and now the two are equal.  We have extraordinary levels of violence and crime and corruption in Latin America, Mexico, the Caribbean and West Africa. This problem is not inherent to drug markets.  It’s the result of failed prohibitionist efforts.  

We’re spending as a society between 50 and 100 billion dollars a year at the federal, state and local level trying to enforce these laws unsuccessfully.  Meanwhile we’re giving criminal records and prison records to a remarkably high percentage of young people of color in this country.  And toward what end?  We’re no closer to having a drug-free society.  We’re no closer to solving this problem than we were 20 or 30 years ago.  So, is it a failure?  Yeah.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.

Image courtesy fo Shutterstock


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Going to college in the mid 70s I started to smoke marijuana occasionally and wondered why people were getting arrested.  Why did I have to worry about getting arrested for this sort of thing?