With a bipartisan vote of 263-146, the House recently approved a bill that included $1.7 billion to combat the drug cartels of Columbia with additional military aid. In doing so, they perpetuated what could be one of the United States' most misguided policies of recent history.
At least some Republicans can give themselves a pat on the back for attempting to remove the Columbian aid from the $13 billion foreign aid bill. Unfortunately, today's drug war is largely a Reagan-era Republican creation, so intoxicating that even the vast majority of liberals mindlessly defend it. Regardless, both parties now overwhelmingly champion the war on drugs, leaving its opponents a mix of unlikely allies, from Nobel Laureate and economist Milton Friedman and conservative writer William F. Buckley Jr., to pothead hippies and the ACLU.
Begun by the Nixon administration, the initial goal of the drug war was interdiction oriented, as financial support was given to Latin American leaders that pledged to fight drug manufacturing. The Reagan years witnessed a drastic escalation of the war, as so-called drug "czars" were appointed to deal with the problem firmly. Though Clinton indicated in early 1992 that he would be willing to consider other solutions to the drug problem, once elected he simply continued the policy of previous Republican administrations. The result: in the '90s over $30 billion was spent each year at the local and federal level to fight the war on drugs.1 Street crime and corruption has grown out of control, and prisons are so far over capacity that the majority of drug arrests go unprosecuted. Civil liberties have been jeopardized, treatment programs are under funded, and drug use has been increasing.
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1 Drugs and Crime Facts 1994: Washington DC Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995.
2 Eldregde, Dirk, Ending the War on Drugs; Bridge Works Publishing, New York, 1998. (All other uncited statistics are also from this source)
3 1999 Statistical Abstract of the United States-table 152.
4 Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, excerpted from: US Department of Justice "Report to Congress on the Activities and Operations of the Public Integrity Section"
5 Grinspoon L, Bakalar JB, "The war on drugs - a peace proposal" The New England Journal of Medicine, February 3, 1994, Vol. 330, No. 5
6 US Department of Justice: Drugs, Crime, and the Justice System, 1992
7 Blendon, ScD, and John T. Young, MPhil, "The Public and the War on Illicit Drugs," Journal of the American Medical Association, March 18, 1998, vol. 279, no. 11, p. 827
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