What do Cindy McCain, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and President Barak Obama have in common? They have all admitted to using drugs (President Obama remarked, “Pot had helped, and booze; maybe a little blow when you could afford it”) but none has served a day in jail for their transgressions. The United States erroneously continues to pursue punitive drug control policies, often collectively labeled the “war on drugs,” which has failed its citizens in myriad ways.
Fair-haired debutante Mrs. McCain, wife of former presidential candidate Senator John McCain, was arrested for stealing Vicodin and Percocet. Did she have to abandon her Chanel suits for orange prison garb? Nope. She went through a pre-trial diversion program, some amorphous framework subject to prosecutor’s discretion that disproportionately benefits individuals who are white and moneyed. The fact numerous highfalutin politicians and judges have been able to secure government positions despite their admitted drug use highlights the obvious hypocrisy of the way the current drug laws are applied.
For example, on July 1, 2012, a new law took effect in Florida that requires welfare recipients to be tested for drugs in order to qualify for benefits. Governor Rick Scott supported the law and declared the measure necessary to prevent the misuse of tax dollars. However, according to published reports, some 96 percent of those tested proved to be drug-free. What’s more, the law forces the state to reimburse those who tested drug-free for the testing costs. As a result, Florida revealed the program did little to prevent drug abuse and wound up costing the state more money in drug testing than it saved by denying benefits.
Florida’s new law is just one example of misused government investments that consistently delivers the opposite result of its stated goal – to reduce drug production and use. This is not the first time the United States foolishly attempted to prohibit so-called sinful behavior. Consider the abysmal failure of alcohol prohibition from 1920 to 1933. That ban resulted in the growth of the Mafia, it generated rampant corruption among politicians, and it made criminals out of otherwise normal, law-abiding citizens. The war on drugs paradigm has had similar adverse effects including making drugs more dangerous, creating powerful criminal syndicates, increasing violent crime, and corrupting law enforcement at all levels, all the while bestowing upon the United States the great dishonor of being dubbed the world’s largest consumer of cocaine, Columbian heroin, and Mexican heroin and marijuana.
Most alarming is the fact the war on drugs paradigm launched during President Richard Nixon’s administration cost about $15.6 billion for the 2011 fiscal year. According to the calculations of Harvard Economist Jeffrey Miron in a 2008 study, $12.3 billion was spent keeping drug law offenders in prison in 2006. Such figures reflect the fact large-scale incarceration is an expensive policy. The war on drugs paradigm is a total failure and waste of government funds. So where do we go from here? Stay tuned…