By any reasonable standard, the War on Drugs has been a total disaster It has not shown any results in terms of reducing drug usage. The cost in money, resources, and lives has been immense. It’s no shock, then, that a whopping 82% of the American public believes it has been a failure. Yet in our political realm, it is the name that cannot be spoken. Political leaders who seriously question it are largely on the fringes, with coverage of the issue mainly relegated to places like Reason and other libertarian sources (as well as some liberal publications). In my experience, it’s rare to even see it discussed in conservative circles - and that’s a great shame. If conservatives could educate themselves on it, I think it could be a great issue. There are numerous reasons why, but here are just three.
First of all, the War on Drugs destroys families, especially within minority communities. Conservatives like to talk about how important the family is, yet seem to be not bothered by the fact that the United States incarcerates 2.3 million people, more than any other nation (except perhaps China). Many of these inmates are fathers, sons, mothers and daughters who are in prison for non-violent drug-related offenses. They are doing hard time alongside violent criminals because our laws are so strict. Instead of getting clean and being able to make something of their lives, they are in prison with felonies on their record, making it near impossible to recover. I can’t see for a second how society and the family unit are bettered by this. Why destroy someone’s life for using drugs?
Secondly, the War on Drugs costs us massively, both in terms of money and in loss of life and liberty. Seemingly every week we hear stories about police raids gone horribly wrong, sometimes resulting in tragic and unnecessary deaths. Our police departments are using military-grade equipment and SWAT raids against people who pose little or no threat to society. And what threat they do pose is largely because they are forced to live in a black market and cannot rely on the police to protect them. Further, we simply can’t afford to keep spending billions in enforcement and incarceration. It’s much cheaper and more effective to treat people than it is to try them and lock them up. And it saves us from making even more problems for ourselves when these people are released as hardened criminals.
Finally, I genuinely feel making the case for scaling back the War on Drugs will help politically in two ways. First, since the War on Drugs affects minorities so disproportionately, changing our tactics will genuinely make the lives of these minorities safer and better. The GOP can earn massive points by showing some compassion for drug abusers rather than scorn. Youths would not be as drawn to drug dealing. And this doesn’t mean the GOP has to give up the so-called “law and order” vote. Anyone who wants to be tough on crime should be all for focusing efforts on genuinely dangerous criminals. Secondly, it will do much to help GOP support with libertarian-minded voters who have long seen the War on Drugs as one of the most tragic episodes in our history. It will show them that the GOP is willing to change when it is wrong.
I won’t deny that this tactic has its risks. Society has been conditioned to think that drugs are wrong and immoral. And to be sure, there are many drugs that are extremely harmful. The problem is that, whether we like it or not, there will always be a demand for drugs. We can either choose to open this market to the light of day or shove it into the lawless shadows. It simply is time we dropped the idea that we can stop drug abuse with guns and jail time. It has not worked and never will, and brings with it a host of extremely deleterious consequences that are often even worse. Because of all this, it’s time that conservatives change their thinking on this subject. It’s the right thing to do and could have great returns for them politically.