The War on Drugs may not top the list of most successful programs of the State, but it has got to rank high, right up there with Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, the Cold War, education, and farm subsidies. It has achieved more than any of its most ardent designers and admirers counted on.
This octopus program straddles the length and breadth of the entire country, from sea to shining sea. It depletes every sort of community, from Jacksonville to Los Angeles, from trailer parks in rural Iowa to suburban mansions. Its tentacles extend across oceans and continents, from Afghanistan to Colombia and from Mexico to Burma.
This program is long-lived, now 125 years old at the national level. It dates from the 1880 prohibition of opium imports from China.
This program at one stroke of national law manufactures all sorts of crimes, thereby amalgamating every local police force and justice system into a national apparatus. It provides work, direction, and bureaucracy for countless police, lawyers, and other justice officials.
This program has the vitality of youth, shown by its recent success in fastening itself to terrorism. Narcoterrorism is breathing life into many new careers.
This program supports the work of policy makers and academics of many stripes.
This program secures work for whole departments of government. The Drug Enforcement Administration alone employs 22,000 people and has a $2 billion budget.
This program not only penetrates every voting precinct, but also crosses all the branches of government at every level. Any corporation would be extremely satisfied at such market penetration.
This program affects the pin-striped State Department in its diplomacy, pressure tactics, aid packages, agreements, embassies, coordination and intervention. Bright young faces find their calling in narcopolitics and narcoterrorism.
This program triggers Defense Department involvement overseas via military forces and interventions, foreign bases and use of the most sophisticated electronic devices and aircraft.
This program fosters bigger and bigger enemies to fight in the form of mysterious cartels with foreign names and origins, loaded with huge amounts of money, and capable of outwitting the most stalwart DEA agents — until they are given more money and manpower to fight back.
This program has found an ideal target: prohibiting the production, circulation, and exchange of certain molecules. This target is ever-receding and ever-expanding, thus requiring and justifying ever-larger budgets and expenditures.
This program incentivizes entrepreneurs to create new molecules constantly, thus providing new targets. It encourages ever stronger, purer, and more easily transported versions of the old molecules.
This program fosters ever-stronger laws and abrogations of rights. It amplifies ancient seizure and forfeiture laws into routine tools of injustice. It invades bank records. It expands wiretapping. It turns banks into cash transactions police. It turns dogs into policemen. It turns motorists into suspects with no rights. This program nullifies the Bill of Rights.
This program, as in all wars, generates ever-new rationalizations and justifications, such as fighting drug-related crime, reducing health-related costs, saving children and families, creating drug-free zones in schools, and reducing the drug-related financing of terrorists.
This program fosters ever-more legislative interference with and control over the judiciary. Laws requiring mandatory jail sentences for drug "crimes" multiply and stiffen.
This program fosters more laws and regulations concerning ever-longer lists of controlled molecules, including common medicines and remedies that might be used in the synthesis of other molecules.
This program provides continual political food and sustenance for many politicians. Presidents build and sustain popularity around the War on Drugs. This program provides an easily read signal to the electorate of a politician’s staunch crime-fighting credentials.
This program enhances and encourages crime, mobs, gangs, and violence. It turns whole areas of cities into no-man’s lands. It elevates organized crime syndicates and provides them ready cash.
This program creates the fear and insecurity that government can step in to alleviate. Its advertising campaigns tell of epidemics, waves of drugs, out-of-control drug wars, eradication, aerial spraying, drug horrors. This program brings the State’s authorities into the public schools.
This program attracts youth to the forbidden fruit, who then are more easily trapped into the State’s police, justice, prison, and welfare bureaucracies.
This program creates millions of arrests. It creates a constantly increasing flow of criminals and an ever-rising prison population. It destroys lives and families, creating demands for more social welfare workers and psychiatric personnel.
This program enhances drug-related deaths. It enhances the use of dirty needles. It enhances the spread of HIV. All of this creates more demand for government services.
This program enhances local corruption. It places pressures on local systems, creating demands for national coordination, national efforts and national police forces.
This program creates ever-growing demands for new prisons, supporting prison builders and designers, prison companies, corrections officers, and the many supporting prison services.
This program satisfies the moralistic urges of many voters. It caters to those who identify every law with morality, who deify the State or mix it with their own religion, and those who identify with upholding authority, for better or worse, in sickness or in health.
This program provides a ready source of news items, a steady stream of arrests and raids that are always making the streets of our cities and communities safe due to the unfailing and unflinching efforts of our law enforcement authorities.
For the State, for politicians, for government bureaucracies, and for many others, the War on Drugs is a big success, a program for other government programs to emulate.
For all these reasons, it is not hard to understand why in 2005, the U.S. continues its War on Drugs, even though it inflicts ever-rising harm on many U.S. citizens with no countervailing good to the public at large.
For all these reasons, it’s not hard to understand that when the authorities totally fail at the futile aim of preventing individuals from using selected molecules, when they inflict enormous damage on citizens of the United States, they are succeeding in the War on Drugs. They are accomplishing their aims.
The War on Drugs exemplifies the State strangling the society it governs. It is government of the State’s minions, by the State’s minions, and for the State’s minions. For them, the War on Drugs is a winner.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.