It's hard to believe that Americans have spent roughly a trillion dollars (give or take a few hundred million) on this forty-year war. Hard to believe that tens of millions have been arrested, and many millions locked up in jails and prisons, for committing nonviolent acts that were not even crimes a century ago. Hard to believe that the number of people incarcerated on drug charges increased more than ten times even as the country's population grew by only half. Hard to believe that millions of Americans have been deprived of the right to vote not because they killed a fellow citizen or betrayed their country but simply because they bought, sold, produced or simply possessed a psychoactive plant or chemical. And hard to believe that hundreds of thousands of Americans have been allowed to die -- of overdoses, AIDS, hepatitis and other diseases -- because the drug war blocked and even prohibited treating addiction to certain drugs as a health problem rather than a criminal one.
Reflect we must on not just the consequences of this war at home but abroad as well. The prohibition-related crime, violence and corruption in Mexico today resemble Chicago during alcohol Prohibition -- times fifty. Parts of Central America are even more out of control, and many Caribbean nations can only hope that they are not next. The illegal opium and heroin markets in Afghanistan reportedly account for one-third to half of the country's GDP. In Africa, prohibitionist profiteering, trafficking and corruption are spreading rapidly. As for South America and Asia, just pick a moment and a country -- and the stories are much the same, from Colombia, Peru, Paraguay and Brazil to Pakistan, Laos, Burma and Thailand.
Wars can be costly -- in money, rights and lives -- but still necessary to defend national sovereignty and core values. It's impossible to make that case on behalf of the war on drugs. Marijuana, cocaine and heroin are effectively cheaper today than they were at the start of the war forty years ago, and just as available now as then to anyone who really wants them. Marijuana, which accounts for half of all drug arrests in the United States, has never killed anyone. Heroin is basically indistinguishable from hydromorphone (aka Dilaudid), a pain medication prescribed by physicians that hundreds of thousands of Americans have consumed safely. The vast majority of people who have used cocaine did not become addicts. Each of these drugs is less dangerous than government propaganda claims but sufficiently dangerous that they merit intelligent regulations rather than blanket prohibitions.If the demand for any of these drugs were two, five or ten tim