The War on Drugs is a failure
I want to thank my partner for presenting this challenge; this is always a stimulating discussion. This will be the first time I have ever found myself in the position of arguing FOR the War on Drugs (WoD). My screaming liberalism and hedonistic epicurean principles normally forbid me taking such a position. However, in this case, I am impatient to complete my third debate on this website, and be awarded voting rights. So.
But, personally, I really doubt that my partner and I are very far apart on this issue. This really should be considered an example of Devil’s Advocacy.
First of all, I would like to point out that, as I indicated, I hold the opinion that drug laws within the US should be relaxed significantly. This is especially true in the case of marijuana, and drinking age limits that have been set above the age at which a person can legally become a soldier or a voter. Why should a young man be permitted to potentially die in battle, without being also able to drink in honor of his fallen comrades? This is nonsense: if we can die for our country, we should be able to drink to our country,
However, this should not mean that the “War on Drugs” should be regarded as an abject failure, or even discontinued. My take on this subject is that we should modify and focus our efforts to restrict dangerous intoxicants in a more intelligent and effective way. I feel that current policy does not accomplish this: we have a wasteful, inconsistently applied system that does not work as well as it should. This aside, it should not be called a “failure” and simply done away with. It should be mended – not ended.
Entering this debate, these following important concerns arise for me – concerns that must be answered convincingly before I could accept my partner’s premise, that the War on Drugs has been a “failure.”
All of these concerns can be placed into three neat stacks:
My position, then, is that although the WoD is clearly an example of imperfect policy, it has achieved some modest successes. It cannot, therefore, qualify as a “failure,” however slight those successes have been.
1. United States drug policy technically began in 1914 through the Harrison Narcotics Tex Act. As many of us know, heroin and cocaine were first manufactured pharmaceuticals. Advertisements selling Cocaine claimed it as an "instantaneous cure!" for toothaches. Heroin sold by Bayer was also easy to obtain from "druggists." At this time drug abuse was relatively unheard of with a very low percentage of the population being addicted to opiates or other psychoactive drugs. There was a time where even Coca-Cola had cocaine as one of its ingredients.
However, the date I would consider as the start of War on Drugs would be 1970 with Nixon"s Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. Heroin use peaked from 1969-1971 with almost 15% of U.S service members in Vietnam abusing the drug. This was alarming to the Nixon administration and the main reason behind is newly coined "War on Drugs." To answer your question, drug use was not a problem before the 1960"s. Even in the 60"s we like to think of LSD use and hippies walking around smoking marijuana. In a 1969 Gallup poll, only 4% of American adults proclaimed to have tried marijuana. At this point the government was using scare tactics with unfounded claims that marijuana caused blindness and sterility.
By the 1970"s marijuana use had grown 20%. Not much was known about cocaine and it was believed by some, that it was not addictive. Heroin use had grown by large percentages. This in my opinion is due to the lack of proper education about drugs. All around, there was no significant abuse of drugs. So no, there was no unacceptable level of human misery caused by drug abuse.
2. To answer this more quickly I will display some stats of drug use after the commencement of the War on Drugs. 10"15% of illicit heroin and 30% of illicit cocaine is intercepted. Drug traffickers have gross profit margins of up to 300%. At least 75% of illicit drug shipments would have to be intercepted before the traffickers' profits were hurt.
Years after the declaration , cocaine use had multiplied by five. Marijuana hit its peak use at 1979. More contemporary, MDMA and other amphetamines have also alarming rates of increase. Similar to cocaine they have too increased by almost fivefold.
I have a personal example I would like to share as well. My hometown"s demographics would show that majority of the population is middle-class and white. Most of the employed commute to New York City every day. I can walk outside and obtain a considerable amount of marijuana, MDMA, or LSD within 15 minutes. Now being in college in PA I found this to be the same. It seems no matter how much money is put into the War, I can make a trifle out of obtaining highly illegal narcotics.
With this, I feel that discontinuing the War on Drugs would, for the most part, not increase the amount of users. As seen in my personal example and from the large increase of drug use regardless of the efforts from the government.
3. Since I do not believe rates of drug use would increase after the discontinuation of the War on Drugs, I see no reason that violent crime from drug users would increase.
4. Again with the belief that drug use would not increase, there would be no reason that more stress would be put on the healthcare system. However, a massive strain is put on the criminal justice system. Prisons are filled with non-violent offenders. The number of people in state prisons for drug offenses has increased 550 percent over the last 20 years. Of the 1,638,846 arrests for drug law violations in 2010, 81.9% (1,342,215) were for possession of a controlled substance. Only 18.1% (296,631) were for the sale or manufacture of a drug.
Percent of federal prisoners held for drug law violations = 55%
Percent of state prisoners held for drug law violations = 21%
Marijuana/hashish, Percent of federal drug offenders, 2004 = 12.4%
Marijuana/hashish, Percent of state drug offenders, 2004 = 12.7%
Since the start of the War on Drugs, incarcerated Americans as a percentage of population has increased from roughly .17% in 1971 to .8% in 2008. So, roughly 600,000 to around 2,225,000 incarcerated Americans. California"s annual costs to incarcerate an
inmate in prison is $47,102. Needless to say this is a huge burden on the federal budget.
On another note, small time marijuana users get screwed for doing nothing wrong. Felonies are handed out for marijuana. This is nonsense. Felonies ruin the life of someone simply trying to relax. Rights are stripped from felons and make job-finding nearly impossible.
5. Same as 3 and 4. I do not think there would be any significant increase in drug use. Also let me reiterate a previous statistic: 10"15% of illicit heroin and 30% of illicit cocaine is intercepted. Drug traffickers have gross profit margins of up to 300%. At least 75% of illicit drug shipments would have to be intercepted before the traffickers' profits were hurt. So the power surge in the cartels you speak of is highly unlikely.
6. I think it is safe to say majority of Americans would not use drugs just because they are legal. People that have no interest are not held back by the fact that it is illegal. Criminalization is not a deterrent of drug use, besides, drugs are readily available to those who want to use them, as I stated before. Zogby polling data asked 1,028 likely voters, "If hard drugs such as heroin or cocaine were legalized, would you be likely to use them?" Ninety-ninety percent of respondents answered, "No." Only 0.6 percent said "Yes." The remaining 0.4 percent weren't sure. Though It is a small pool of voters, I find this to be true on practically every poll.
7. I do not think Afghanistan is a valid comparison to the United States. The two nations you are comparing are in such contrast it would be silly to compare them. Also, American efforts and the 60,000 American troops stationed in Afghanistan have destroyed opium plantations many times over. This clearly has no affect. Just another point, I doubt that after halting the War, we would see opium plantations sprouting up uncontrollably all around the United states.
8. Just because the War on Drugs is stopped does not mean our children can walk into a Walmart and purchase heroin. Of course regulations will be placed if the War on Drugs is stopped, as I do think there should be regulations.
9. Criminalizing drugs puts non-violent dealers in a bad position. The government creates negative situations for small-time users and dealers for no good reason. Similarly the War puts cartels in a like position. Not to say that the cartels are not murderous scumbags , but the War in not helping this in any way.
I understand that you believe that there is a level of success. But clearly that is not true. Their efforts to intercept drug trafficking makes no difference. Cartels still laugh with their massive profits. Though the DEA may get drug busts every now and then, it is a hopeless effort. In the long run any individual bust is rendered useless. The War on Drugs is a bottomless pit that the government is funneling millions of dollars into. Law enforcement is wasting man hours and lives for no reasonable gain. They could be fighting violent crimes. The cons of the War greatly outweigh the pros.
WGBH educational foundation. Interview with Dr. Robert Dupoint
Davenport-Hines, Richard Peter Treadwell (2002). The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics. New York: W. W. Norton.
Stephen R. Kandall, M.D.:Women and Addiction in the United States"1850 to 1920
It is important, in arguing any important topic, that it is presented well. Both my partner and I share serious concerns about the direction that the WoD is taking, and we both hope to see much more intelligent policy be implemented going forward.
However, exactly because I agree with my partner on so many points, I would also like for him to present a strong case for this perspective – and so I am bound to offer criticisms that I feel will improve his argument in the future.
To that end, I am noting the following items that I feel can be done better:
“Drug use was not a problem before the 1960’s. Not much was known about cocaine. All around, there was no significant abuse of drugs. So no, there was no unacceptable level of human misery caused by drug abuse.”
Here, my Partner attempts to show that there were no overdoses, accidents in the manufacture of narcotics, accidents involving the operation of automobiles or heavy machinery while under the influence, or any other significant or unacceptable pain caused by the use of dangerous narcotics that predate 1959.
I believe that, despite the tepid and unconvincing statistics given, that this is an unsupported assertion.
“Drug traffickers have gross profit margins of up to 300%. At least 75% of illicit drug shipments would have to be intercepted before the traffickers' profits were hurt.”
I may be required to concede that this point is true. I am in little position to authoritatively second guess this fact. However, it was offered within the context of reassuring me that the rates of usage of dangerous narcotics might increase as a result of ending the WoD, and that there are very likely cases in which the harmful effects of these narcotics was prevented by the WoD. It is therefore somewhat nonsensical as a response.
A stronger point is made when he points out that drug use has increased since the WoD has been conducted in earnest. Unfortunately, this is another unsupported assertion; no evidence is given that clearly demonstrates that this increased usage was positively caused by the WoD.
In other words, this could be a convincing argument, which would require that I concede the point or lose credibility. First, however, my partner must provide convincing supporting evidence that definitively demonstrates causation. No such evidence is offered.
“I can walk outside and obtain a considerable amount of marijuana, MDMA, or LSD within 15 minutes. With this, I feel that discontinuing the War on Drugs would, for the most part, not increase the amount of users.”
This is a compelling personal story, but is too small a study to represent a representative sample of the overall population. Again, while I accept that it is my partner’s earned opinion that drug use would not increase as a result of removing preventative drug laws, it is also unsupported by convincing evidence. We require this evidence in order to force a supporter of the WoD to admit that they have made an error.
My partner repeats several times that “drug use will not increase if that use is made legal.” This mirrors accurately that assertion that “The WoD is not reducing the use of dangerous narcotics.” However, it is everywhere unsupported by convincing data. Since so many of his key points, critical to building his case, rely on this argument, I am required to examine it a little more closely.
“Drug use will not increase if drug laws are eliminated.” Or, “The existence of drug laws do not affect drug use.”
This argument requires that we believe that:
“Laws do not affect human behavior.”
Since, after all, my partner has not explained why drug laws should be seen in any different light than other legal requirements. For his argument to work, then, he will need to also make the case that laws in general do not work – that people are no more, (or less,) likely to stop at busy intersections if there are (or are not,) red lights positioned at those intersections. Or, he would be required to demonstrate how laws regulating the manufacture, sale, or use of narcotics are significantly different than other laws – or perhaps how drug users are less likely to be governable under any circumstances.
This is key, so I will elaborate: Many of my partner’s arguments hinge on the fact that “laws do not work” as related to drug users, makers, distributors, etc. This begs the question: Why not? If he is arguing that drugs create an inability for society to govern its members, then the WoD is essential for societal governance.
“Criminalizing drugs puts non-violent dealers in a bad position. The government creates negative situations for small-time users and dealers for no good reason. Similarly the War puts cartels in a like position.”
“I understand that you believe that there is a level of success. But clearly that is not true. Their efforts to intercept drug trafficking makes no difference. Cartels still laugh with their massive profits. Though the DEA may get drug busts every now and then, it is a hopeless effort. In the long run any individual bust is rendered useless. Law enforcement is wasting man hours and lives for no reasonable gain. They could be fighting violent crimes. The cons of the War greatly outweigh the pros.”
This is a mixture of hyperbole and unsupported assertions. In order to make this argument, my partner will be required to make the absurd claim that absolutely nothing good has ever, or can ever, result from any attempt to regulate, restrict, control or prohibit the manufacture, sale or use of any ingestible substance.
This is in stark contrast to my argument, which is that the WoD should be improved, but all attempts to regulate drug sale, manufacture and use in the US should not be abandoned. Consider his argument, which I reduce to:
“There has been no level of success with any drug laws, and no drug laws can ever prove to be a benefit to society under any circumstances. All such laws would increase drug use, and reduce police protections and waste tax dollars.”
To demonstrate the wild, undisciplined rhetoric that is being used here, I will point out that my partner has indicated that there has been no level of success in the WoD (“I understand that you believe that there is a level of success. But clearly that is not true. Their efforts to intercept drug trafficking makes no difference.”) Then later, he points out that, “The cons of the War greatly outweigh the pros.” Clearly, if there are any ‘Pros’ at all, then his earlier statement must be untrue. This is evidence of hyperbole, in my opinion.
My partner also points out that the penalties for minor drug offenses are too severe, and that these limit the earning potential of persons thereby convicted. Here, he is exactly correct – and he makes a somewhat convincing case for why we should modify our laws that criminalize less dangerous intoxicants. I would like to see him elaborate on this point, as I feel that it is his only strong defense.
These rebuttals can be summarized as follows:
1. Laws cannot govern drug users
2. The WoD cannot reduce drug use
Both of these statements are unsupported by any evidence, and actually argue in favor of the WoD: if “laws cannot govern drug abusers,” then preventing that abuse from occurring in the first place is essential for societal governance. Therefore, good governance requires that we support the modification of the WoD, but not it's complete abandonment. Therefore, the WoD cannot be considered a "failure."
To rebut this round, I will match my opponent’s tactic, by using bold lettering when quoting him.
“ However, it was offered within the context of reassuring me that the rates of usage of dangerous narcotics might increase as a result of ending the WoD, and that there are very likely cases in which the harmful effects of these narcotics was prevented by the WoD. It is therefore somewhat nonsensical as a response.”
I had trouble understanding where my opponent was coming from here. If he wishes to see these stats as reassuring him that the rates of narcotics might increase given the ending of the WoD, then so be it. The stats show the frivolous attempts by the WoD to halt drug trafficking. Given that the WoD only intercepts 15% of narcotics being imported presents us with the fact that these efforts might as well not exist. 85% of narcotics still make it into the United States. I will attempt to take this 85% from the micro to macro scale to display fecklessness of the 15%.
The drug network is very similar to a large business. Let us say a narcotic addict (Harris) wants to buy heroin. Harris knows many small time dealers, but there is a particular man that he likes to buy from(Max). Max buys from Erik who gets larger quantities of heroin from which he pushes to small time dealers. Erik then may know two main drug dealers for the town. These two dealers get the largest amount of heroin from regional narcotraffickers. From these regional narcotraffickers we can assume maybe one or two more stages until we reach the drug lord inside the United States. Even though the efforts of the WoD intercepted 15% of narcotics, Harris can walk outside and buy any amount of heroin that he wants ( given he can afford it) regardless of that seized 15%.
Now that tree could very well have flaws in regards to the specific stages, but it is the idea that counts, the same conclusion applies give or take several stages I may have missed.
Now we must look at this example and apply it to the goals of the WoD.
Will you accept that the goals of the WoD is the following?
- End the import of illegal narcotics
- End the manufacturing of illegal narcotics
- End the selling of illegal narcotics
-End the use of illegal drugs
As seen in my example, no single one of these goals was achieved. Harris bought drugs that he is going to use. These drugs were manufactured and then imported. Now multiply this transaction by several thousand, and you get the number of transactions or “failures” that are completed every day within the United States. Since the WoD is unable to achieve any of its primary goals, the WoD is a failure.
Even U.S. drug enforcer Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn't worked.
"In the grand scheme, it has not been successful, Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."
“Laws do not affect human behavior.”
I do not see why there is a need to make sweeping claims such as this. Of course laws affect human behavior. But I have been talking specifically about drug laws. I’m not going to waste much time describing how traffic lights and drug laws differ. I will leave you with this however. Harris can get drugs whenever he wants. It does not matter whether or not there are laws in place. You yourself had spoken about “addicts who have become desperate to obtain their drug?” Harris is desperate, it makes no difference to him that there is a slim chance of him getting caught with possession of drugs. Even more so with the dealers higher on the tree, there is such a high income incentive, that the chance of getting caught does little to hinder them. Of course they will be secretive about it, but none the less, they will still sell or use drugs.
However, Jerry over there is not so desperate to run the red light. He has no mental and physical dependency to run red lights. He has no craving to just save a few seconds and run the red light. Now let us attach a desperation to this situation. Jerry is late to his job, and if he is late to work one more time, he will get fired. Now I can see Jerry maybe considering running the red light.
The availability of drugs will always be there and it is open to those who want to use them. If they do not want to they do not want to. The WoD will never change the validity of that statement.
“To be convincing, we are required to evaluate why a certain action is harmless. In order to demonstrate that drug use is “harmless,” my partner will be required to do something that is obviously impossible.”
I was simply speaking of violent and non-violent crime. If you wish to debate whether or not you care if some junkie sits inside all day smoking meth, then I must say I will not partake with you. I for one, do not care. Again, the drugs are present and the users will use the harmful substance. I do not see where the WoD intervenes in this situation.
“This is a mixture of hyperbole and unsupported assertions. In order to make this argument, my partner will be required to make the absurd claim that absolutely nothing good has ever, or can ever, result from any attempt to regulate, restrict, control or prohibit the manufacture, sale or use of any ingestible substance.”
Given my example of Harris achieving his goal to use heroin regardless of WoD, I think I can safely say that any attempt to regulate, restrict, control or prohibit the manufacture, sale or use of any ingestible substance is useless.
"Their efforts to intercept drug trafficking makes no difference.”) Then later, he points out that, “The cons of the War greatly outweigh the pros.” Clearly, if there are any ‘Pros’ at all, then his earlier statement must be untrue. This is evidence of hyperbole, in my opinion."
I feel I have properly shown that their efforts do not make any difference, especially given that drug use is still rampant 40 years and 1 trillion dollars spent later. I address my previous statement with this one: I do not see any pros.
1. Laws cannot govern drug users
2. The WoD cannot reduce drug use
I hope I have properly addressed the two issues you have arisen.
"Therefore, good governance requires that we support the modification of the WoD, but not it's complete abandonment. Therefore, the WoD cannot be considered a "failure."
Funneling more money into the WoD will not prevent desperation and thus not prevent drug use. More money into the WoD will also not destroy the cash incentive for cartels so they will continue to manufacture, traffic, and sell drugs. These being the main goals of the WoD, it is in fact, a failure.
I want to sincerely thank my debate partner for a quick yet engaging contest. I feel that he has conducted himself well, and has provided the readers with a perspective that is not often seen. For my part, I have enjoyed the exercise, and regret somewhat its speedy conclusion.
It has been my task here to defend the WoD against the assertion that it has been an abject failure. As a peripheral goal, my partner and I seem to have also trended toward a consideration of what the entirely unpredictable consequences of full “pharmacological anarchism” (as I, bemusedly, would call it) might be.
My task here was fairly simple: defend drug laws from the claim that they are entirely ineffective. It’s seldom a difficult task, defending any particular thing from such a polemic attack, but I am not unrelieved to learn that the chore was not more difficult. I am, after all, a relentless critic of the WoD, and a more or less hopeful watcher that marijuana laws might one day be ended. Not because of any particular medicinal need that I have; but because I would enjoy getting stoned into the astral plane.
At the end, my partner has never attempted to make the case that the entire legal code itself cannot be obeyed, or that most laws are pointless due to the inevitable miscreant. He has waved off any discussion of running red lights in a traffic lawless alternate universe, as well he should - the idea is absurd. It was not his case that every law is pointless, since any particular law will be eventually violated.
It is his case that specifically drug laws are pointless, that addicts cannot be controlled by them, and therefore, the drug laws should be abolished. It is assumed that this would work better, and I agree; what can stop illegal behavior faster than legalizing that behavior? I'm being facetious. I oughtn't.
But my partner has a point. A face-eating bathsalter might harm no one but himself. He may be an entirely sane, loving and funny man who loves puppies – until he gets bathsalty and eats the face from some reluctant passer by. We can assume that the face eater’s girlfriend is honest when she says that this is unusual for him; we are also safe in the assumption that he is entirely out of his mind once sufficiently seasoned. This is one part of the point: society cannot allow a proliferation of face-eaters. As these face-eaters are to be considered mad, and entirely unsafe to be near – much less reasoned with – we must do what we can to prevent their transformation from gentle boyfriend to bathsalted face-eater. Inasmuch as the WoD has reduced this menace, it has been less than a dismal failure. Likewise, we do not want drunks driving upon the same sidewalks as we instruct our children on the sport of cycling sans-training wheels.
I argue that it is reasonable that we place restrictions upon such things – and we should rightfully consider the causes of such things as well. If we have determined that there are dangerous narcotics that can inspire peculiar and unwanted behavior, then these narcotics should be banned. That they may also harm the users is a side point, but an important one for the families of these people. Inasmuch as drug laws (the totality of which we term “the War on Drugs”) provides us with the tools that we need to properly manage society (and to predict the actions of salty-looking passers by), then we should support at least some elements of it.
My partner has argued that the WoD should be named a “failure,” and entirely disposed of. The crux of his argument is that, once addicted, these people cannot be controlled by laws. Therefore, he reasons, these laws might as well be abandoned. I counter that they should at least be modified first, that there are redeeming elements to be found in our attempts to regulate these substances. It is not un-ironic that our reasoning is identical…
I grudgingly endorse drug laws for the same reason that he opposes them. Because, once addicted, these people cannot be controlled by laws.