End of Year Drug War Update


Randall G. Shelden


Several years ago I started a tradition writing an end of the year update on the drug war.  It is that time again as we bring the year 2005 to a close.  As usual, I can almost repeat what I said every other year, since the insanity of this “war” continues unabated.

            According to drugsense.org. (http://www.drugsense.org/wodclock.htm), the latest numbers for this year (as of December 8, 2005) are as follows:


            Total money spent on the drug war: $47.7 billion;


            People arrested on drug charges: 1.5 million;


            People arrested for possession of marijuana: 690, 749;


            Number sentenced to prison on drug charges: 10,172.


That’s a huge chunk of money and a large number of people directly affected by this “war.”  But it is just the tip of the iceberg, for as in any war there is a great deal of “collateral damage.”  Let me give some examples.

            The most glaring example of collateral damage is the fact that the drug so obviously targets racial minorities, especially black people.  For the skeptics, let me bring out the following facts gathered from several sources: 


Blacks constitute 12.5% of the total population;


Surveys consistently show few if any differences in illegal drug use according to race (some show higher rates of use among whites);


The black arrest rate for all drug offenses is four times the arrest rate for whites (in some states it is even higher);


The rate of incarceration for blacks on drug charges is about 8 times greater than for whites.


Women have been targeted the most in recent years, with one report noting that during the past decade, “drug offenders accounted for the largest source of the total growth among female inmates (36 percent) compared to male inmates (18 percent).”  Moreover, half of the women in prison are black and they are eight times more likely than white women to be incarcerated.


Another serious casualty of the drug war is corruption within the criminal justice system, especially among police officers.  One study found that about half of all police officers “convicted as a result of FBI-led corruption cases between 1993 and 1997 were convicted for drug-related offenses and nationwide over 100 cases of drug-related corruption are prosecuted each year. Every one of the federal law enforcement agencies with significant drug enforcement responsibilities has seen an agent implicated.”

            Drug use continues and study after study documents how easy it remains to obtain illegal drugs.  The annual Monitoring the Future drug use survey found that “more than half of the students in the United States have tried an illegal drug before they graduated from high school. In addition, in 2004, 5.6 percent of 12th graders reported daily use of marijuana, as compared with 6.0% in 1999 and 4.9% in 1996.”  Studies of drug testing of school age youth finds no impact on drug use.  Likewise, campaigns to get students to not use drugs have been shown to have little if any effect.

            Although the popular DARE program continues to receive funding and praise from its supporters, research continues to show few positive results.  In fact, a six-year study of 1,798 students by University of Chicago researchers found that “DARE had no long-term effects on a wide range of drug use measures."  It also found that DARE does not "prevent drug use at the stage in adolescent development when drugs become available and are widely used, namely during the high school years." Also, the program may be counter productive, noting that "there is some evidence of a boomerang effect among suburban kids. That is, suburban students who were DARE graduates scored higher than suburban students in the Control group on all four major drug use measures."

A recent study by noted drug expert Jeffrey Miron (in his book Drug War Crimes) found that the drug war actually causes an increase in violence, among other consequences.  After reviewing the evidence covering several decades he concludes that “high rates of prohibition enforcement are associated with high rates of violence.”  He also found that countries that have the lowest level of enforcement of drug laws (or no drug laws at all) have much lower levels of violence than the United States.  This is just one of many consequences of the drug war.

I must conclude that claims of success by drug war supporters are factually incorrect.  Will we ever end this madness?


 © 2005, Randall G. Shelden. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced without permission from the author.