keith haring crack is wack graffiti

The Collapse Of The War On Drugs

Trillions spent, hundreds of thousands of lives lost. For what?
keith haring crack is wack graffiti

Oil prices are recorded and analysed on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Food prices ignite riots and drive revolutions. However what of the world’s third largest valued industry: drugs? There is no place to look up the average price of a gram of methamphetamine (the best indicator of supply and demand) nor the analysis which characterises the oil industry and makes it such a good indicator of world economic health and regional stability. Drugs may be the most important topic to ever be abandoned by world analysts and the war in drugs the most expensive conflict ever to go unquestioned by the populations who pay dearly for it.
This may, finally, be changing. On December 10th the British House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, one of the most influential groups in the UK, revealed a damning verdict on the world War on Drugs’ failure and the cost of that failure. Just like the several reports such committees have produced for years, criminalisation of drug users and the campaigns to shut down the world’s third most valuable industry was savaged by the use of a real look into these policies.
This is not the first time British drug policy has been questioned. Opposition to present policies have been growing for over two decades. Tension between the British government and the swelling numbers of scientists, advisers and select committees grew to a head in 2009 with the David Nutt controversy.
Nutt is and was a respected expert in drug policy who served for British drug committees for years before the 2009 clash. In 2008 he was appointed as Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. In 2009 he created a double controversy which resulted in his being sacked later in the year. In the first instance he compared the dangers of taking ecstasy to horse riding, finding horse riding thirty times more dangerous. His attempt to underline the almost arbitrary attack on drugs as a dangerous form of recreational activity caused uproar almost the British establishment and the ire of the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. Nutt followed this up with the publication of a lecture re-classifying drugs according to scientific classification of physical dependence, physical harm and social harm. The results embarrassed the British government, showing their policies to be completely undefendable, especially when driven home with statements like “the obscenity of hunting down low-level cannabis users to protect them is beyond absurd”.

The result? Not policy overhaul, but the sacking and public mauling of Nutt as a man who had overstepped his remit as a drug policy adviser who dared question government policy whilst in office. The entire episode ruined the British government’s reputation on drug policy and began the push towards deregulation. This year the controversy emerged again in the form of the first television investigation of ecstasy in Channel 4’s Drugs Trial. The mauling of pro-government Andy Parrott in the show underlined how dramatically the tide is swinging away from the government prohibition-style policies.

The main obstacle is the developed world’s most powerful voting demographic, the over-55s. In the last few decades the only remaining group to have grown up before the huge liberalisation of the 1960s has grown disproportionately large, hoarded huge amounts of the national wealth and completely dominated the electoral polls. Despite the over-65s making up only 15% of the population they take up 25% of the votes in Britain and the over-55s seize almost half the votes alone. This disproportionately rich and influential group also leads the opposition to gay rights, voting and constitutional reform, and medical policy changes such as abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research. However it is also a shrinking demographic, one which halves every two decades to be replaced by generations who grew up in a more liberal period than their predecessors.

This demographic swing is emboldening reform-minded politicians who will always require support from the over-55s to enter office. British PM David Cameron spoke out against government drug policy in his first year in office and the Liberal Democrats have drug policy reform as one of their top priorities. Nor is this a British-centric shift. The War on Drugs is a world issue and one which is facing collapse in many countries. This week the US state of Washington became the first to decriminalise cannabis and Colorado will soon follow, flouting federal laws in doing so. Amsterdam in the Netherlands struck down a new law which would have closed its own drug freedoms to visitors from other countries. Portugal continues to report the huge successes of its own blanket decriminalisation and other countries are beginning to notice.

Many underestimate just how huge the cost this collapsing war has levied on its participants. Thousands of criminalised youths and trillions spent by demand countries, with over one million incarcerated in the US for a cost of $1 trillion in that country alone. The US could save or make up to $80 billion from decriminalising and taxing presently illegal drugs. Thousands dead in distribution countries, with up to 100,000 dead in Mexico alone since the beginning of the US-backed drug cartel crackdown and no signs of success, a figure equal to that of the entire Iraq conflict and significantly higher than Afghanistan. Civil war and devastation in countries of supply such as Afghanistan and Columbia where the drugs fuel militant movements and finance the even more dangerous trade of guns.

Trillions spent, hundreds of thousands of lives lost. For what? Drug policies which over the last decade have been mauled by dozens of experts from science and politics, levying a price voting populations have no idea they are paying. The taboo of taking a critical look at the world’s third most valuable industry and its most expensive conflict is finally being broken to reveal policy based more on ignorant hardheadedness and fear of the tabloid press than any true grasp of the war they are even trying to fight. The momentum is swinging away from prohibition and towards David Nutt, and he may yet get to have the last laugh in the collapse of the War on Drugs.


Photo Credit: NYC-Metro Card

One thought on “The Collapse Of The War On Drugs”

  1. Prohibition has finally run its course; the lives and livelihoods of hundred’s of millions of people worldwide have been destroyed or severely disrupted; many countries that were once shining beacons of liberty and prosperity have become toxic, repressive, smoldering heaps of hypocrisy, and a gross affront to fundamental human decency. It is now the duty of every last one of us to insure that the people who are responsible for this shameful situation are not simply left in peace to enjoy the wealth and status that their despicable actions have, until now, afforded them. Former and present Prohibitionists must not be allowed to remain untainted and untouched from the unconscionable acts that they have viciously committed on their fellow human beings. They have provided us with neither safe communities nor safe streets. We will provide them with neither a safe haven to enjoy their ill-gotten gains nor the liberty to repeat such a similar atrocity.

    Prohibition has evolved local gangs into transnational enterprises with intricate power structures that reach into every corner of society, helping them control vast swaths of territory while gifting them with significant social and military resources.

    Those responsible for the shameful policy of prohibition shall not go unpunished!

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