FT: May 5, 2014
The war on drugs has been a $1tn failure. For more than four decades, governments around the world have pumped huge sums of money into ineffective and repressive anti-drug efforts. These have come at the expense of programmes that actually work such as needle exchanges and substitution therapy. This is not just a waste of money, it is counterproductive.
The London School of Economics has just completed perhaps the most thorough account of the war on drugs done to date. The conclusion, backed by five Nobel Prize-winning economists: it has done more harm than good.
Drug prohibition has created an immense black market, valued by some at $300bn. It shifts the burden of “drug control” on to producer and transit countries such as Afghanistan and Mexico. This approach also fails to grapple with a basic truth: drug markets are highly adaptive. Repress the business in one country and it springs up elsewhere.
Consider Colombia. When its law enforcement agencies made progress cracking down on the country’s cocaine trade, much of the criminal business and the violence that goes with it moved to Mexico. The LSE report estimates that after 2007, Colombia’s interdiction policies accounted for more than 20 per cent of the rise in Mexico’s murder rate.
Bogotá had a lot of mayhem to export. The explosion of the illegal drug market between 1994 and 2008 “explains roughly 25 per cent of the current homicide rate in Colombia. That translate into about 3,800 more homicides per year on average that are associated with illegal drug markets and the war on drugs”, according to the report. This type of violence takes a massive economic toll; corporations relocate, foreign investment dries up, industries decline and citizens flee in search of a better life.
The costs are not limited to producer countries; consumer nations suffer as well.
This is especially so in the US, which has less than 5 per cent of the world’s people but almost 25 per cent of the planet’s incarcerated population. Most are drug and other non-violent offenders for whom drug treatment and other alternatives to incarceration would probably prove cheaper and more effective in reducing recidivism and protecting society. Worldwide, 40 per cent of the 9m people who are incarcerated are behind bars for drug-related offences – and that figure is only likely to rise, as arrests of drug offenders in Asia, Latin America and west Africa are increasing steadily.
Despite the epic scale of human wreckage, services that could save lives and cut down on the costs to society go underfunded, or not funded at all.
(read the full article at FT)