Can We Win the War on Drugs By Putting People in Jail?

President Clinton has announced that he will increase the drug war budget by almost 7% this year. This means more of the same tactics that have resulted in increased drug use, and cheaper drugs.

Wanting to appear tougher on drugs than the President, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich opines that the President doesn't go far enough. Tough-guy Newt has said that "...we in congress will pass legislation to implement the largest, most dynamic, most comprehensive anti-drug strategy ever designed."

It sounds like a massive escalation. Indeed, Newt said that New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had "laid the groundwork to launch a World War II - style victory campaign against illegal drugs." He has even threatened to kill marijuana smugglers.

So, how many people would have to be put in jail to "win" the war on drugs? It bears noting that in 1996, there were about 1.5 million drug arrests. Of these, 43% (almost 642,000) were for marijuana, and 85% of these were for simple possession. But we're talking about a massive escalation: what would it cost?

According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, over one third of Americans have experimented with marijuana, and as many as 15 million smoke it regularly. It costs about $30,000 to house 1 prisoner for a year. Therefore, it would cost a minimum of $450 BILLION EVERY YEAR just to jail the marijuana users.

That's not counting the costs to arrest them in the first place. At least 2 officers are going to be tied up for 2 hours MINIMUM, getting an arrestee from the "scene of the crime" to a jail cell. That's 4 man-hours per arrestee. For marijuana use nationwide, using the example, that's another 60 MILLION man-hours! And that's not counting auxilliary personnel not directly involved in the arrest.

Our current federal drug war budget is on the order of $15 Billion. As anyone can see, we're short of getting even the marijuana users by a good bit, not to mention the rest of the illegal drugs.

Where are these additional funds going to come from? Government programs don't usually get scrapped, so the new money must come from taxpayers, in the form of new taxes. I don't think it's too unreasonable to expect 75% (or higher) tax rates, in the name of "protecting our children"!

In other words, we're being asked to fund, with ever-higher taxes, yet another escalation of the drug war that's likely to be worse than ever, in terms of dollar costs to society, and other costs, such as to individual liberty, freedom, and a loss of the feeling of general well-being that is necessary for a society to survive.

It's time for the federal government to stop this insane "war". Every major study on the subject in the last 100 years recommends, at the least, decriminalization of marijuana, and a medical approach to the drug problem in general.

Who are these people, our "leaders", that they think they can go against such evidence? Not to mention ignoring the will of the voters... How can voters make the federal government hear us?


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