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Ear to the Ground

War on Drugs a Bust

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Posted on Jan 7, 2008
war on drugs

How will we know if the war on drugs is ever won?  When all the kingpins are locked up or dead?  That was once the prevailing idea among those on the front lines of the much-ballyhooed “war,” which Rolling Stone scribe Ben Wallace notes has now gone on for over three decades and, in his view, is an utter failure.

Rolling Stone:

But after Escobar was killed in 1993 - and after U.S. drug agents began systematically busting up the Colombian cartels - doubt was replaced with hard data. Thanks to new research, U.S. policy-makers knew with increasing certainty what would work and what wouldn’t. The tragedy of the War on Drugs is that this knowledge hasn’t been heeded. We continue to treat marijuana as a major threat to public health, even though we know it isn’t. We continue to lock up generations of teenage drug dealers, even though we know imprisonment does little to reduce the amount of drugs sold on the street. And we continue to spend billions to fight drugs abroad, even though we know that military efforts are an ineffective way to cut the supply of narcotics in America or raise the price.

All told, the United States has spent an estimated $500 billion to fight drugs - with very little to show for it. Cocaine is now as cheap as it was when Escobar died and more heavily used. Methamphetamine, barely a presence in 1993, is now used by 1.5 million Americans and may be more addictive than crack. We have nearly 500,000 people behind bars for drug crimes - a twelvefold increase since 1980 - with no discernible effect on the drug traffic. Virtually the only success the government can claim is the decline in the number of Americans who smoke marijuana - and even on that count, it is not clear that federal prevention programs are responsible. In the course of fighting this war, we have allowed our military to become pawns in a civil war in Colombia and our drug agents to be used by the cartels for their own ends. Those we are paying to wage the drug war have been accused of ­human-rights abuses in Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. In Mexico, we are now ­repeating many of the same mistakes we have made in the Andes.

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By Maani, January 9, 2008 at 9:51 pm Link to this comment


Simply FYI:


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By ChairlegOfTruth, January 9, 2008 at 8:22 pm Link to this comment

To G.Anderson:

I’m not advocating that it should be legal to drive a vehicle on PCP, I’m not even necessarily saying that anyone should have access to PCP. The difference between someone driving on PCP and driving drunk, to me, is nil. But alcohol itself isn’t illegal.

I guess my main point is that our drug policy is a little arbitrary and absurd. As far as the studies are concerned, at least for marijuana, it is significantly less harmful than alcohol in the long term, and physically non-addictive. It’s just ignorant to have a drug like alcohol, which has fewer medicinal benefits as well, legally attainable where marijuana is a real criminal offense often with ridiculous mandatory sentence guidelines.

A fundamental concept that the founders tried to instill in American government was to protect the rights of the few from the tyranny of the many. Every time our government tells a cancer patient who wants to smoke a joint to feel good enough to eat a sandwich, “no”, I bet Franklin turns over in his grave.

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By BlueEagle, January 9, 2008 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment

The War on Drugs will end after the CIA is abolished.

Why on earth would they destroy their main source of revenue? We’ve got heroin flowing in from Afganistan and 4 tons of cocaine crashing in Mexico. Good stuff.

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By Conservative Yankee, January 9, 2008 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To this New Englander, the war on “terror” looks like a war on terrorists who target financial entities.

“Terror” for a good number of US Citizens is getting fired, losing your place in society, becoming homless, watching your children go hungry, Obviously the war on terror is not targeting hurricanes in Louisiana, Fires in Montana and Idaho (except when they get near high-priced neighborhoods) or sickness and death for folks without access to medical care.

Get this, I was informed that without ainsurance, The doctor would not operate on my prostate!  I told the hospital; “I have the money, I’ll pay cash” 

Come to find the doctor (one of five urologists in northern Maine) will not accept cash.  AND this seems to be common practice.

For some folks “terror” might be having cancer without method of recourse.

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By Robin, January 9, 2008 at 12:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Did you even read the article? Nowhere article does it say that drug use is a victimless crime. We are all victims of our government wasting our tax dollars on failed drug policy. Here is something that the article did not address. This is why we could consider marijuana a “gateway” drug. I grew up having D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education)in school and all we heard was the horrors of pot. And then when we tried it, we found out that it wasn’t horrible at all. What else did they lie to us about? I wonder if heroin is really as bad as they say it is, since they didn’t tell us the truth about pot. Anybody have anything to add?

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By Bill Blackolive, January 9, 2008 at 12:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Right, all the above.  Imagine, were pot legal, how popular it would be with that much minus of paranoia.
Then too, the value of psychedelics in understanding humans might get brought back.  In such a land, the escapist drugs would be less popular.  Meantime,to have this crap illegal is money, billions for Democrats and Republicans, for cops.  Cocaine alone brings in more revenue for the international banking community than crude oil etc.  Nothing will happen soon, we thought this in 1966, but, no, not till the schizoid nation wrecks itself can we legalise all drugs and try to eliminate the growing criminal class, which government chooses to produce for the greatest prison industry and world conquest.  Right now the prison industry is not breaking even, so I understand, but making it make some kind of profit can occupy the Democrats/Republicans some decades further.  Maybe even world war III.  Hell we have, and, nobody even talking on corporate TV the serious discrepancies of the 9/11 cover-up.  The drug problem canbnot be solved when we are run by conquest and such crime against humans.

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By Maani, January 9, 2008 at 11:43 am Link to this comment

Simply FYI (i.e., no agenda intended here):


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By robert m puglia, January 9, 2008 at 10:50 am Link to this comment

“I’m a little muddled.”

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By Robert, January 9, 2008 at 9:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

During Reagan’s term as President, Don Regan was under fire from Nancy and the press were hounding him out of his role in the presidency.  Regan, no shrinking violet made no bones about it.  He told some folks on the evening news, I think it was to Peter Jennings at the time, that the war on drugs could be won easily and cheaply and in fact all organized crime could be controlled quickly simply by changing out the currency once a year or so, rendering all other currency worthless.  Since honest folks keep little cash at all, it would not be a hardship to them and since all criminal enterprises depend on suitcases of cash and money laundering, simply demanding it be exchanged, and if you did show up with a pile of it, calling the IRS to see how you got it, would put a quick end to it.  The story ended there and Regan left quietly.  It seems the good ol’ U.S. of A. depends too much on this cash and the bottom line is without it, markets would crumble.  So much for your war on dope.

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By themask, January 9, 2008 at 9:16 am Link to this comment

And while we are blocking receptors in the brain and chemically castrating productive people, The doc’s can put a chip in your head to track you, Kind of a human On-Star - Sounds a little like the
“Boyz from Brazil” doesn’t it ? Dont worry, The U.S. Gov. has had NO problem injecting people- Mostly soldiers with all sorts of concoctions. I’m sure glad you dont work for FEMA, or do you? and thank goodness Adolf Hitler never succeeded with any of these same ideas.

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By G.Anderson, January 9, 2008 at 8:36 am Link to this comment

Yes, I would agree that some people are able to be productive while on drugs. In fact it’s probably true that some people are more productive on drugs, than sober.

Maybe one person out of a hundred or a thousand, can fly a 747 while peaking on LSD, and maybe their a much better flyer that way. Should we legalize drugs just for that person. Or do we make it illegal to protect ourselves from the other 99 who can’t.

That’s something we like in our society, “productive people”, however sometimes their families suffer, from the production.

The Nazi’s also gave their soldiers methamphetamine, they included it in their rations, they believed it turned their soldiers into “supermen”, and encouraged it’s use.

Our countries job is to protect the innoscent, sometimes that means us, from people who drive on the freeway while high on PCP.

Sometimes that interferes with our “fun”, but until vaccines become perfected for all drugs we may have to live with it.

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By Conservative Yankee, January 9, 2008 at 7:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What and where is the line?

If (as we advertise) this is a free country, where is the line that makes some folks think “yeah a free country, free to do what they want as long as the crowd agrees.”

Having done foster care for over 30 years, I have experienced FAR greater numbers of FAS and autistic children than I have crack babies.

Now I don’t deny that crack babies exist, and that they have been denied a decent constitutionally protected life due to parental behavior, BUT to say that the parents who violate their children’s “right to happiness” with legal, sometimes prescribed drugs, are somehow a higher class of folks than those who use crack seems just a bit disingenuous.

I personally don’t use drugs, legal or illegal BUT I feel freedom trumps the argument that alcoholics are free to do as they wish, BUT drug addicts are the scourge of the earth.

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By ChairlegOfTruth, January 9, 2008 at 1:09 am Link to this comment

in a way your points are valid in illustrating how ignorance and irresponsibility can have horrible consequences.

Alcohol and tobacco use are just as dangerous as many, and in the case of marijuana more so, than many other substances classified as illegal by our government. How many lives have been destroyed by these government controlled and condoned drugs? Why should they be any different?

I see no logical argument for the position of alcohol and tobacco other than the fact that they have been traditionally consumed by a larger segment of the populace, including the elite, and are very profitable. There certainly is no good moralistic argument for them.

As far as your implicit opinion that drug users are not productive, or waste away all their time getting high: my father was a marijuana smoker for most of his life, and dabbled with consciousness altering drugs in his younger days. He also was managing editor of three different major west-coast newspapers, an award winning journalist, and 20-year college professor.

Some drugs, like meth and crack, I would agree are nothing but poisons. Others, however, are tools. Military pilots have historically made use of pharmaceutical amphetamines. Marijuana has been used very successfully in treating many cancer symptoms and in the relief of glaucoma. Studies have even been conducted that have found that use of psychotropic drugs increase can increase a person’s capacity for empathy and spirituality, and alleviate certain hard to treat mental illnesses.

But people, specifically the government, don’t want to acknowledge these things. Maybe out of ignorance or propaganda saturation. I don’t know the answer. All I know for sure is that many of these substances have enhanced peoples’ lives as well, and I think that it’s wrong for someone to live in fear of government reprisal for RESPONSIBLY doing anything that will only potentially cause harm to one’s self.

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By G.Anderson, January 8, 2008 at 9:52 pm Link to this comment

I would like those who believe that the war on drugs is a failure to spend some time at a Medical Placement unit, where babies have tracheotomies, so that they can breath because their mother spent her pregnancy in a crack house.

Or visit, teenaged children, blind deaf and dumb in diapers, rolling on the floor of their foster home, because of their mom’s drug use. Before they condem the war of drugs as a failure, or tell me it’s a victimless crime.

Mabye we should legalize drugs, for all those who wish to waste their lives getting high, as long as they agree never to have children. Maybe they could be implanted with birth control. Then maybe the rest of us could go about making a productive world, free from robberies - commited for drugs, drunk drivers killing us an our children,or billions of dollars spent on a drug war. In that way in a generation or two there probably wouldn’t be any drug users.

Or maybe when vacinations are available for drugs, we could require all school children to be vacinated against them, much like we vacinate against polio now. I hear there’s a vacine in final trials for nicotene now, and one on the way for cocaine.

Or baring that, at some point it will be able to block all the receptor sites in the brain to prevent getting high. Then maybe the rest of us could live in peace.

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By Get Real, January 8, 2008 at 5:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Something with your logic does not make sense.
You went from poor to middle class because of a president but stayed idle because of another?

I have continued to rise because I work hard, save and invest. Does not matter what president is in office to me. Your financial status should be based on your own merits not who happens to be in office.

But then again, you are probably a no good loaf living off the government social programs. Get a real job!

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By Maani, January 8, 2008 at 3:45 pm Link to this comment

The connection between drugs and U.S. military activities is closer than you think.

Back when I was a bad boy (in a former life…almost literally), I engaged in the use of various illegal substances, and hung out with many dealers.  And my dealer friends could always predict when new drugs would arrive by watching where the U.S. military was active.

For example, when the U.S. was in Lebanon, lots of Lebanese hash came flooding in; when we supported the mahujadeen in Afghanistan, lots of Afghani hash came flooding in; when we were protecting the Thai government, lots of Thai stick arrived; when we first began raiding South American drug dealers, lots of Peruvian, Colombian and Chilean cocaine arrived.  And so on.

The reason is simple.  Some of the “freedom fighters” we supported did not have enough cash to pay for weapons, etc.  So they traded drugs, which were then dumped on the U.S. market by U.S. military and political types who had lined their pockets nicely with the profits.

This flooding of the market had two effects.  On the one hand, it helped to keep the masses “drugged” and thus (hopefully) less politically active.  On the other hand, it self-fulfillingly provided the very impetus for the continued “war” on drugs.

MMC puts it in a nutshell when he points out that “That’s part of the beauty of calling solutions to ongoing social problems a ‘war on.’ It can be never ending and we can’t give up, it’s a war.”

What we REALLY need is a war on “wars.”


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By ocjim, January 8, 2008 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment

Like the war in Iraq, the so-called war on drugs is a total waste of money and effort. Politicians are too afraid of appearing weak before the electorate to simply tell the truth about its failure. Just like the Iraqi war, they would rather waste the lives and resources than to support the war’s end.

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By P. T., January 8, 2008 at 2:04 pm Link to this comment

Actually, all you can do is wonder.

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By jackpine savage, January 8, 2008 at 1:33 pm Link to this comment

Agreed, and i don’t necessarily believe that marijuana use is down.  Most companies test on entry, which means that an employee only has to pass the whiz quiz once…and then try not get hurt on the job.

Plus, all drug testing is not created equal.  The more accurate the test, the more expensive.  I’ve heard anecdotal evidence that if a specimen is not suspicious when given, it sometimes doesn’t even go to the lab.

And finally, there are a lot of white collar people smoking grass.  Last time i checked, there is no drug testing of restaurant owners and lawyers, etc.

I once got treated to a “substance abuse in the workplace” seminar at a job, where the hired consultant actually helped us figure out how many beers we could have at lunch without getting in trouble…right after he told us that if we smoked a joint last week, we’d be more likely to kill ourselves with the machinery.

Let’s just say he wasn’t too happy to be confronted with contradictory studies from Europe, me blowing holes in his argument, or the minor insurrection that my outspokenness ignited. (I knew full well that at least half of my shift-mates smoked pot regularly.) In fact, i was accused by the HR person of “ruining” the seminar.  Its the little things that make me proud.

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By rage, January 8, 2008 at 1:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The war on drugs needs to be aimed at shutting down Pig Pharma. Instead, Pig Pharma has been allowed to author most new pharmaceutical testing and distribution legislation that’s slowly killing us. Now, we can barely sue them for the damage these products do to a human body. These Pig Pharma rats even get to create a diseases like ADD or ADHD to provide them with a viable drug market, for which laws are written to retain us as a constrained customer base. You try sending your kid to school off the product, once the system has speciously labeled your child an emotionally afflicted deviant who requires meds to be managed.

I worry less about the street dealers than I do about these legislatively legitimized corporate drug houses who have doctors clocking to push their product. Doctors will lure you into drug studies by pushing them as Club Med type vacations at 5-star facilities. Once there, either the sugar-pill placebo will drive you into a diabetic coma, or the actual product will cause you to spontaneously combust at room temperature in the ambient candescence of flourescent lights. Meanwhile, weed makes you giddy, sleepy, hungry, and does wonders in releiving pain and glaucoma. The way I see it, God made weed and Pig Pharma made medication. I trust God more than Pig Pharma.

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By Marshall K, January 8, 2008 at 12:09 pm Link to this comment

The only reason marijuana use is down is because of work place drug testing.  This ridiculous practice is highly ineffective in weeding out serious drug usage since coke and meth leave the system quickly and marijuana stays for up to 30 days. 
Prohibition does not work.  Until our culture loses our Puritan attitude toward feel good substances, we will never have an effective program to treat harmful drug use.

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By themask, January 8, 2008 at 11:56 am Link to this comment

P.T. - You know that you don’t need to wonder…..
and I liked the use of the “military TYPE activities”
how true, how true.

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By P. T., January 8, 2008 at 11:45 am Link to this comment

I wonder how much money made by U.S. allies associated with drugs is going to pay for military-type activities and how much is simply going into people’s pockets.

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By dotell, January 8, 2008 at 11:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m a little muddled.  Marijuana smoke isn’t a public health hazard?  Not even second-hand marijuana smoke? Wow.  Didn’t prohibition stop that major destroyer of health, alcoholism?  No?  Aren’t there fewer marijuana & cocaine growers now thus saving GENERATIONS of children from drug abuse & from harming their own health while driving up OUR health care premiums? No?  Hasn’t mocking the addicts, ostracizing them & jailing them helped them overcome their filthy addictions?  No?  Making prostitution illegal certainly eliminated THAT moral outrage, and stopped the spread of venereal disease right?  No?  Well, thank God tobacco is different!  If you don’t believe me & Nanny Bloomers, read the NYT editorial page!  New York is a now a beacon of love, health & low-cost premiums - an example to be followed by other states.  Rolling Stone may need to really LOOK at NY before condemning the war on drugs - wars produce results!

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By themask, January 8, 2008 at 11:01 am Link to this comment

Not only has the U.S. “supported” (Financed) conflicts around the world with drug profits - Just look at the majority of large city police departments, They constantly funnel their confiscated
drugs into useable revenue for the “war on drugs” !
I cannot understand how naive so many Americans can be to think our leaders truly want to abolish the drug trade… 
They simply cant stand that they aren’t reaping all the beny’s from the worlds second largest money maker.

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By themask, January 8, 2008 at 10:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why was I in Columbia in the early 80’s sniping
drug cartel leaders.?.  A simple question with a simple answer. Because they wouldn’t play ball with the U.S. Drug lords - George Bush SR. and
William Jefferson Clinton !!! and now some of you would like to put a Clinton back in the White House.
How utterly sad that we have such pathetic choices for the leader of this once great country…..
There is NO “war on drugs” - There is a Campaigne to control the drugs coming in to our country to create more revenue for the many public faces you see every day.

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By Expat, January 8, 2008 at 10:00 am Link to this comment

By jackpine savage, January 8 at 8:39 am #
(23 comments total)

“Too bad our liberal/progressive/change candidates for president seem to have no intention of changing drug policy…”

Yeah, go figure.

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By jackpine savage, January 8, 2008 at 9:39 am Link to this comment

There is one facet of the issue that this article left out: often, the right and the left hand of government have different agendas.  An excellent book on the subject is “Whiteout” (Cockburn & St. Clair).  It goes into the grimy details of the CIA and its penchant for getting into bed with drug producers/traffickers.  That they would do so makes perfect sense.  It is a good revenue stream that doesn’t need to be accounted for.  What we end up with is (again) pouring money into both sides of the battle.

The gist of the other comments i intended to make have already been made by Expat, so i’ll leave it at that.

My only addition to the “marijuana isn’t that bad” line of thought is that not a single law need be changed to ease marijuana out of the war on drugs.  Police departments and prosecutors could simply stop enforcing the laws.  By non-enforcement they would still have the ability to prosecute if someone is found with cash, blow, guns, and pot.

Too bad our liberal/progressive/change candidates for president seem to have no intention of changing drug policy…

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By P. T., January 8, 2008 at 9:08 am Link to this comment

The U.S. government itself gets involved in the drug trade.  Heroin helped facilitate covert war in Southeast Asia and cocaine did in Central America.

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By Conservative Yankee, January 8, 2008 at 8:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“I don’t see what Clinton had to do with it at all! He’s been out for 6 years, it’s Bush’s politics and his Haliburton cronies that have put us in this awful position”

It IS hard to make the connection, but it goes back even further than Clinton.

In 1992 we had three viable candidates, A Republican incumbent who favored NAFTA, MFN for china, and the WTO, a Democratic challenger who favored NAFTA MFN for china and WTO, and an independent who warned us that the policy proposed by both major parties would kill off the middle class.

We rejected Perot the papers called him a nut, and his prophecy came to pass.

We, the US citizens got exactly that which majority vote favored.

That’s how our system works.

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By Chris Herz, January 8, 2008 at 7:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hate to be a contrarian, but the drug war is actually a resounding success.  Its real goals and objectives were at once the crippling of America’s foremost liberal constituency—urban Black communities and a “maskirovka” for the subversion of resource-producing countries. 

Both these missions have been accomplished.

Chris Herz
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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By reason, January 8, 2008 at 6:15 am Link to this comment

The so called “war on drugs” was (and is) little more than “hype” promoted by politicians who needed a good “sound bite” as a response to what was known to be a serious threat to the underpinnings of our society. Of course, business and political interests recognized the opportunity to make and funnel money to things like black ops programs that are essentially criminal.
Drugs are not the fundamental problem; they are the overall result of the erosion of hope of a personally fulfilling life. The “War on Drugs” is like a war on the victims of drugs. I am not minimizing the need for an aggressively severe response for making and trafficking drugs; I am promoting the approach of eliminating conditions and policies that cause people to want to escape the demeaning and ugly realities of what is for some, everyday life. I am not naïve nor, do I think this will eliminate the illegal use of drugs but it is an approach that addresses conditions that allow drugs to be an alternative to living a life of little hope and even less faith in the future. Just imprisoning drug users in prisons that only turn out more criminals is not the answer. My main point is that until we address the cause for illegal drug use, we cannot hope to stop it.

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By Expat, January 8, 2008 at 4:56 am Link to this comment

I had the privilege of working with Dr. Charles Spray at his street clinic “Outside – In” in the 70’s in Portland, Oregon.  Interestingly, that was a time when the police were human and I/we had many fine encounters with them assisting us with “freak-out” drug interventions.  Unfortunately, a time long past.  He pioneered a program for getting highschoolers on a summer heroin binge off of the drug for the coming school year; no criminal record.  Follow up showed the efficacy of his program.  He got into major trouble for his efforts.  He did the same for returning vets (Nam) at the Vancouver Vet Hospital.  He lost his medical license for that.  To my point; while this article is a great read for history, it does not show us a way to a successful solution.
The Dutch have modeled the best drug control program in the history of this problem.  As one instance; they reduced the average age of heroin addicts from their mid to lower 20’s to over 40 years old.  That was more than ten years ago.  We have known of this for more than 20 years, but we refuse to give up our hypocritical, Victorian bullshit.  Stop the demand and you stop the market   Oh yeah, pot is not serious, so get over it!  We certainly have more serious problems than that:  So just legalize drugs and gain a modicum of control and get on with the important things like impeaching our war criminal president!  Get a goddamn life!

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By P. T., January 8, 2008 at 1:53 am Link to this comment

I think part of the difficulty in calling off the drug war is the Puritan streak in American culture.  Another problem is American rulers’ reluctance to admit defeat.  They see it as demonstrating their weakness to the masses.  It is easier to continue pursuing wars, even if they are lost:  Vietnam, Iraq, drugs, etc.

And employment is at stake.  In California the prison guards oppose less severe drug laws because it could cost them jobs.

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By Glen, January 8, 2008 at 12:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To Mike- MId City
Funny thing I was poor until Clinton took office, found the policies at the time raised myself and my family up to the level of upper middle class, now that GW is in office I am still in the middle yet I see it things s
sinking everyday. When Clinton left the country was in the black and the budget was balanced, less than 2 years of GW’s first term we were in the red and damn they are starting to run out of ink we’ve used so much.
I don’t see what Clinton had to do with it at all! He’s been out for 6 years, it’s Bush’s politics and his Haliburton cronies that have put us in this awful position

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