Today in “Asked and Answered” (Drug War Edition)

Via the WSJHave We Lost the War on Drugs?

Answer:  Yes, we have lost (and badly).

Of course, the entire notion of a “war” in this case was misplaced (to understate the matter by quite a bit) because there is no way to win, if winning is supposed to look anything at all like a halt to drug use (or even a substantial diminution thereof).

It is only a “win” if the goal was to increase the prison populations and to increase violence and organized crime in Colombia, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.  Or if one’s goal was to continually break drug seizure records (’cause we are constantly breaking those).  Also:  the wholly thing is winning! if one likes spending billions upon billions of dollars to achieve all of these outcomes.

One place to start, if we ever do decide to start to rationalize our drug policies, is to recognize that the utter elimination of drug abuse is impossible and therefore, any policy goals have to take that fact into consideration before defining “success.”

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Dave A says:

    Steven, how large do you think the impact of for-profit prisons is on the continuation of these policies?

  2. @Dave A: A good question, but I have no informed position on it. I will say that I am not in favor of for-profit prisons

  3. Nick says:

    I’ve worked in the treatment field, on and off, for almost 30 years. I’m currently the manager of a 24 bed housing facility for men in recovery. I live in a major metropolitan city. My clients have been the urban poor–addicted to alcohol, crack, meth, heroin, and the occasional pill addict. Our city is a leader in the trreatment field. We actually have ‘wet houses’ where we store chronic alcoholics on the public dime, and let them drink themselves to death. It’s a cheaper alternative than constantly putting them in jail or detox. Frankly, it’s the model we should be using with addicts, to minimize their negative impact on society.

    The treatment field has been flooded with drug court referrals–people who are sent to treatment in lieu of jail time. They generally lack the motivation necessary to develop long periods of abstinence. Our prisons are populated with people who are either addicts (60% by some studies), or people who were under the influence when they committed their crime (80%).

    For profit facilities make their profits by squeezing their services–it’s a damned shame.

    Long term recovery appears to happen rarely. AA claims 2.5 million worldwide. The general estimate is that at least 10 percent of a population is either addicted or has a problem with alcohol or other drugs. Than means there are roughly 25 million addicts in the U.S. alone. And of the 2.5 million claimed by AA, many of them are 30, 60, 90 days sober, and back out to relapse. Hazeldon, among the leaders in treatment, used to claim a 1 year sobriety rate of 50%–and they were getting the cream–people who still had the resources like insurance to afford to get in their doors. Many addicts are impoverished in every way imaginable.

    I’ve been sober 12 years (relapsed during law school when I stopped going to meetings), and now nearly 7 years. I still want, on some level, to use again, and I might. Imagine giving up whatever you love most, voluntarily, day in and day out. That’s what recovering addicts do, and it’s no wonder so many fail.

    The War on Drugs is a theory that provides a good feeling for people inclined to see mental health as a morality issue. Think about it this way–at what point does a person decide to become an addict, such that that decision makes them morally culpable for the result?

    Anyway, that’s a jumble of thoughts on an issue I work with daily. I’m off to the gym to get obsessive compulsive with some weights.

  4. JKB says:

    @Dave A:

    I think you’d do better to look a the police agencies and their controlling governments first. Forfeiture is money in the bank to them. Gold to, since they can claim the profits without even having to do the arrest paperwork on the person, much less house them if convicted.

  5. anjin-san says:

    Think about it this way–at what point does a person decide to become an addict, such that that decision makes them morally culpable for the result?

    For me it was at the age of 13, when I got drunk the first time. Boom, I was gone.

    I think of this every time someone says that people end up addicts by choice. I hear it a lot.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    @Nick: Thanks for your post. Adding a little real world practicality to the “this must be the way the world works” type of comments (including my own) is a much needed counterpoint.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:


    I think you’d do better to look a the police agencies and their controlling governments first.

    I think you have to look at both under a magnifying glass. The motive behind both is profit.

  8. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The U.S. has lost the war on drugs.

    In every big liberal Democrat city across the country they’ve also lost the wars against gentrification and unaffordable living. In fact not only have they lost those wars they’re ground zero. Beverly Hills. Malibu. Pacific Heights. South Beach. Dedham. SoHo and Tribeca. The irony also is lost upon them.

    In various places they’ve also lost the war against gun violence. You know, places with strict gun control laws and regulations. Connecticut. Detroit. Chicago. Philly. Newark, Camden, Jersey City, Patterson. Baltimore. Los Angeles. Boston. San Francisco. Go figure.

    Left-wing colleges and universities have lost the war to impart quotas upon the labor force. Especially in connection with occupations for which either graduate school or least some form of professional licensure or both are prerequisites. How many black and Hispanic physicians, appraisers, engineers, accountants, architects, real estate brokers, attorneys and securities professionals have been added and then retained in the employed workforce since “affirmative action” first became de rigueur? Um, not too many. And at what cost?

    Most of all, however, the country has lost the endless quagmire of the “war on poverty.” The irony also has been lost on the political left wing. For numbingly obvious reasons that last item won’t ever receive too much if any attention from any of the usual suspects.