A thoughtful piece this week in the New York Times takes away all the emotional reasons for ending the War on Drugs and boils it down to some simple math. It says that maybe officials are looking at the wrong numbers, that the amount seized, grown, and burned up shouldn’t be indications of success, but the price should be.
If you remember learning about supply and demand in school, you’ll know that as supply goes up, price comes down. The more there is of something, the cheaper it is. So Eduardo Porter of the NY Times offers this:
They are thinking about the wrong numbers. If there is one number that embodies the seemingly intractable challenge imposed by the illegal drug trade on the relationship between the United States and Mexico, it is $177.26. That is the retail price, according to Drug Enforcement Administration data, of one gram of pure cocaine from your typical local pusher. That is 74 percent cheaper than it was 30 years ago.
Thirty years ago, the drug war was just getting started. Thirty years ago, officials thought it was as bad as it would get. The conditions in this country, at that time, warranted serious response—a War against drugs. But what this simple number shows us is that it could get “worse”—the prevalence of drugs, that is— and that their war, well, their war simply wasn’t the answer.
Cocaine isn’t the only drug that’s gotten cheaper. Meth and heroin have seen similar price drops. The only controlled substance that hasn’t seen a significant drop in price is marijuana, and growing acceptance of pot among average Americans tells us their war is failing their too.
One of the arguments for maintaining the War on Drugs is that our children need us to fight drugs, that if we don’t they will somehow all turn into junkies. But the fact of the matter is, the war on drugs may be driving up consumption among teens. It is certainly playing a role in the increased use of prescription drugs.
In a Gallup poll, only 31 percent of Americans said they thought the government was making much progress dealing with illegal drugs, the lowest share since 1997. But fewer people say they worry about drug abuse than 10 years ago. Only 29 percent of Americans think it is an extremely or very serious problem where they live, the lowest share in the last decade.
The American people are growing weary of this war. They are tired of footing the bill for militaristic raids on small time dealers and medical marijuana smokers. They are not happy with seeing their voting demands countered by the federal government in the case of medical marijuana. And more and more they just wish state and federal governments would back off.
So, is an end to this war coming? Until a significant change comes to Washington (not just a simple change in leadership, but sweeping change in perspective), it isn’t likely.