The “War on Drugs" has been so terribly ineffective that it leads one to question its true motives. Even a dog can eventually learn from an electric fence, so why not the United States government? Is the goal really to curtail drug use, or is it to segregate society and vilify the disadvantaged?
A combination of mandatory minimum sentencing and other unjust laws has led to an enormous rise in U.S. prison populations. Thanks to these laws, 60 percent of the federal prison population consisted of nonviolent drug offenders as of 1999. In 1997, about twice as many people were arrested for drug offenses as for violent crimes.
As a result, the U.S. incarceration rate is now six to ten times higher than in most industrialized countries. Indeed, in 2000 the U.S. surpassed Russia to become the nation with the highest incarceration rate worldwide. A side effect of this enormous boom in prison population has been an increase in spending on prison construction. Since it is mostly young college-age people who are ending up in these prisons, fiscal planners have found that the most logical place to acquire the funds needed for building prisons is higher education. Indeed, there has been a direct trade-off in spending: in 1995, federal funding for university construction dropped by $954 million to $2.5 billion, while federal funding for prison construction rose by $926 million to $2.6 billion. These numbers are huge. They reveal that in one year, the federal government reallocated more than a quarter of total spending for university construction toward prison construction.
The laws are unjust in other ways as well: they target minorities and the poor disproportionately while turning a blind eye to the rich. On paper, these laws...
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...e cost-effective approach to the drug war. It can hardly be a coincidence that the percentage of American citizens who smoke marijuana is two times the percentage of Amsterdam citizens who smoke marijuana, even though marijuana is legal in Amsterdam.
The criminalization of drug use has put its regulation in the hands of corrupt forces that are above the law. The same law that puts the drug dealer who is caught in prison empowers another drug dealer by removing her competition and tightening her control over her territory. As long as there is a demand for drugs, there will be a supply. The problem with criminalizing drugs is that it does nothing to address the demands of addiction. It needs to be recognized that drug use can be curtailed without recourse to imprisonment, that fighting a war on drugs is the surest way to lose all governmental control of drug use.
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