32 Reasons Why We Need To End The War On Drugs

mexico drug war

Photo: AP

The global war on drugs began in 1961, when the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was established in order to create a “drug-free world.”The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime puts out an annual “World Drug Report” wherein they examine trends in drug use and production. However, the report never cares to assess the costs created by the war on drugs itself, which are the real problem to begin with.

A new organisation, Count the Costs, has decided it’s time for an assessment. To this end, they have compiled a comprehensive report detailing the death and destruction the war on drugs has directly caused around the world over the past 50 years.

Unfortunately, as Count the Costs points out, the saddest effect of the war on drugs is that “the centrality of criminalizing users means that in reality a war on drugs is to a significant degree, a war on drug users – a war on people.”

The 'war on drugs' is insanely expensive

In the past 40 years, The US has spent more than $1 trillion enforcing drug laws.

Annually, the US spends at least $15 billion a year on drug law enforcement.

Globally, over $100 billion is spent fighting the war on drugs every single year.

Source: Count the Costs

All that money is in practice a complete and total waste

Since the global war on drugs began, drug use has expanded steadily, the exact opposite outcome the war is meant to effect.

There have been nearly no official cost benefit analyses of the war on drugs, leaving the door wide open for all kinds of unexpected harm caused and little accountability.

Source: Count the Costs

That wasted money could be spent on programs that actually matter

Governments around the world are enduring brutal austerity measures to balance budgets in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008.

Taxpayer money squandered on drug enforcement is diverted from other social spending measures that actually benefit citizens.

Source: Count the Costs

Mass imprisonment of drug users sacrifices economic productivity

40 years ago, 38,000 people were imprisoned in the US for drug-related offenses.

Today, that number stands at over 500,000, over 13 times the amount 40 years.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates resulting productivity losses of around $40 billion a year.

And get this: the U.S. has more people in prison for drug-related crimes than the entire EU has prisoners. This is despite the fact that the population of the U.S. is 40 per cent smaller than that of the EU.

Source: Count the Costs

Tax revenue from regulated drug markets would be a government windfall

In the Netherlands, coffee shops where patrons use drugs deliver more than €300 million in tax revenues to the government every year.

Harvard economist Jeffery Miron estimates the US government could garner 'tens of billions of dollars annually' in taxes and decreased costs of enforcement of drugs.

Source: Count the Costs

Becoming a criminal has never been more profitable

This is basic supply and demand.

Not only do criminals get paid to take on more risk, but the completely unregulated playing field allows for insane price markups.

The Alternative World Drug Report illustrates how ridiculous this can get:

So while there is a 413% mark-up from farm gate to consumer in the price of a legal drug, coffee, the percentage price mark-up for an illegal drug such as heroin can run into multiple thousands.

Source: Count the Costs

Expensive drugs cause more people to commit crimes in order to fund their habits

For example, cigarette smokers typically don't have to commit felonies just to fund their lifestyles.

However, due to insane mark-ups of unsafe, unregulated, and therefore highly addicting products, many users of illegal drugs often do.

A comparison of illegal drug users with medicinal users of the same drugs shows dramatic decreases in the level of crime being committed to fund drug addictions.

Source: Count the Costs

The costs to the public health system of unsafe, unregulated drugs are exorbitant

There is simply no way to vouch for the safety of products in a completely unregulated market like that for illegal drugs.

The Alternative World Drug Report puts it this way:

Drugs bought through criminal networks are often cut with contaminants; dealers sell more potent and risky products; and high-risk behaviours such as injecting and needle sharing in unsupervised and unhygienic environments are commonplace. The resulting increases in hospital visits and emergency room admissions for infections, overdose, and poisonings, combined with increased treatment requirement for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and tuberculosis, can place a substantial additional burden on already squeezed healthcare budgets.

Source: Count the Costs

The 'war on drugs' distorts entire economies when the drug trade is bigger than anything else

It's called 'Dutch disease.' It's when so much drug money flows in to the economy that it causes the currency to appreciate, which in turn decreases exports and makes the economy less competitive.

Many low-income countries where drug cartels thrive are so small to begin with that this can be a serious problem.

It has serious implications for policymakers, who therefore don't have sufficient data on important economic issues to make informed policy decisions.

Source: Count the Costs

Poor farmers forced by necessity into growing drug crops are ruined financially by mass government destruction of their fields

In a global drug industry with an estimated total turnover of $330 billion every year, only 1% of all the money made goes to the farmers who grow the crops.

The violent, drug-trafficking cartels take almost everything else.

When crops of poor farmers are destroyed by aerial government flyovers, many lose everything.

Source: Count the Costs

The 'war on drugs' deters business investment in 'war-torn' areas

The World Drug Report says 'studies have shown that aggregate investment is 5% lower in countries identified as being corrupt.'

In Mexico, for example, that means a $1.6 billion hit to investment due to the business environment fostered by the war on drugs.

Companies funded by drug money laundering in some countries can easily force legitimate competitors out of business by underpricing goods and services, thus consolidating entire sectors.

Source: Count the Costs

The 'war on drugs' kills important tourism industries in 'war-torn' areas

Not many people are looking to vacation somewhere so dangerous that they're afraid of becoming collateral damage in drug-related conflict.

Many less-developed countries that rely on tourism as a significant source of economic activity -- e.g., spending in hotels, restaurants, bars, tourist destinations -- are highly financially vulnerable to this sort of public opinion.

The World Drug Report says that 'in 2011, the number of US holiday makers visiting Acapulco, one of Mexico's main tourist destinations, on spring break fell by 93% from 2010' due to such concerns.

Source: Count the Costs

The violence perpetrated by both criminals and governments to control the illegal drug trade is devastating

Cartels in major trafficking countries actively employ private armies that often have more powerful arsenals than law enforcement.

Insurgent and terrorist groups take advantage of the insane profits of the illegal drug trade to raise money to fund acts of mass violence.

In the unregulated, illegal drug trade, cartels use violence as a major tactic to disrupt competitors and increase market share.

Source: Count the Costs

The excess of profits made from the illegal drug trade is more than enough to buy influence and corrupt public officials

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime describes the situation like this:

The magnitude of funds under criminal control poses special threats to governments, particularly in developing countries, where the domestic security markets and capital markets are far too small to absorb such funds without quickly becoming dependent on them.

It is difficult to to have a functioning democratic system when drug cartels have the means to buy protection, political support, or votes at every level of government and society.

Source: Count the Costs

The economic distortions caused by the illegal drug trade stunt long term growth and development

As profits grow in the unregulated, black market for illegal drugs, it attracts more labour and capital investment, drawing it away from legitimate, regulated, and taxable sectors of the economy.

On the flip side, the businesses that make up the legitimate economic activity in the same country have to shoulder more of the tax and regulatory burden.

These macroeconomic distortions severely hamper the competitiveness of an economy.

Source: Count the Costs

The 'war on drugs' criminalizes poverty and makes criminals of the poor

Farmers in regions with undeveloped infrastructure and bargaining systems that enslave the poor to debtors can often only make ends meet by choosing to grow an illegal crop in higher demand than a legal one.

The Alternative World Drug Report says 'opium bans and crop radiation programs…have been linked with increasing poverty among farmers, reduced access to health and education, increased indebtedness, large-scale displacement, accelerated deforestation, and social discontent.'

It's no surprise, then, that the war on drugs waged by governments often drives large groups of people right into the arms of criminal gangs and insurgent groups.

Source: Count the Costs

Aerial fumigation, a favourite tool of the 'war on drugs,' is destroying the environment

Large scale deforestation directly results from conflict between governments and criminal drug producers

It's a cat-and-mouse game. When governments displace criminal drug producers, the producers relocate and proceed to deforest new areas in order to plant new crops.

When producers relocate, they have to build new roads, structures, and clear more land for growing food.

The Alternative World Drug Report says that 'as a result of this, several acres of forest are often clear-cut to produce just one acre of drug crop.' This is clearly unsustainable.

Source: Count the Costs

The 'war on drugs' is causing uncontrollable environmental pollution even aside from aerial fumigation

Unregulated, criminal drug producers are not prioritizing proper waste disposal -- it cuts into profits and raises the risk of being caught.

Instead, they dump toxic byproducts in secret, contaminating soil and waterways and destroying plant and animal life in the process.

The Alternative World Drug Report says that in the U.S., 'production of one kilo of methamphetamine can yield five or six kilos of toxic waste.'

Furthermore, 'in Colombia, cocaine producers discard more than 370,000 tons of chemicals into the environment every year.'

Source: Count the Costs

The levels of street crime caused by the 'war on drugs' are astonishing

A 2003 study conducted by the UK government estimated that 56% of all crimes are committed by drug users, who are responsible for 54% of all robberies, 70-80% of all burglaries, and 85% of all shoplifting.

The Alternative World Drug Report also provides some scary numbers on illegal drugs and the sex trade:

Low-income dependent users (mostly women) also often resort to street sex work to buy drugs. The UK Home Office estimated that 80-95% of street sex work is drug motivated. Studies from Asia, Russia, and Ukraine show injecting drug users are more likely than other sex workers to engage in street soliciting. Drug-using street sex workers also face increased risk of arrest, and of violence from clients, pimps, and police.

Source: Count the Costs

Criminalizing drug use pushes it underground, where it is unsafe and unsupervised

Instead of placing the priority on safety and education when using drugs, drug prohibition actually encourages the opposite behaviour, as the chief worry for users becomes getting caught.

Users seek out more potent and, by extension, more dangerous drugs as a result.

In addition, the contaminants with which producers cut products in a completely unregulated production environment pose serious poisoning risks for users.

Source: Count the Costs

Unsafe use due to drug criminalization is contributing to the spread of infectious diseases

The Alternative World Drug Report says that 'enforcement against possession of drug injecting paraphernalia can encourage needle sharing.'

Nearly 16 million people around the world are engaging in risky behaviour associated with injecting drugs, and 3 million of them are HIV-positive.

10 per cent of all who contract HIV do so by injecting drugs in an unsafe, high-risk manner. Hepatitis and tuberculosis spread this way as well.

Source: Count the Costs

The 'war on drugs' is making it harder for those who need drugs for medicinal purposes to get them

According to the World Health organisation, draconian enforcement policies have led to 5.5 billion of the world's population having little or no access to opiate medicines.

5.5 million of those without access to such treatments have terminal cancer.

Morphine and diamorphine are nearly impossible for patients to get in over 150 countries around the world.

Source: Count the Costs

Even minor drug-related offenses can destroy one's opportunities forever

And we're talking minor offenses. The Alternative World Drug Report says that in Ukraine, one can be imprisoned for three years for possessing 0.005g of drugs.

In Russia, one can be put away for a year and a half for 'solution traces in a used needle.'

There are states in the U.S. where a drug conviction means you aren't eligible for many jobs, food stamps, health benefits or financial aid -- and not just because you've committed a felony.

Convicted rapists and robbers, for example, aren't barred access to food stamps, health benefits, or financial aid in the same states.

Source: Count the Costs

Drug offenses are essentially being used as an excuse to take away the right to vote

The Alternative World Drug Report explains how voters in the U.S. are being disenfranchised by the war on drugs:

An estimated 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote based on their felony convictions, 4 million of whom are out of prison. About a third of them are black, including 13 per cent of all African-American men. Many of these convictions are drug-related.

Source: Count the Costs

People around the world (including children) are being imprisoned without any due process


In 2005, China had over 350,000 people locked up in 'mandatory drug detoxification centres.'

Cambodia runs similar facilities, and 25 per cent of those detained are children.

These places are nasty environments for detainees, characterised by rampant corporal punishment.

Source: Count the Costs

The DEATH PENALTY is still being used around the world to punish drug offenses

32 countries employ the death penalty for drug-related crimes, and as many as 1000 are executed worldwide every year.

Iran executed nearly 600 people in 2010 for drug-related offenses.

Estimates of the number of persons executed in China in 2007 for drug-related crimes range from 2000 all the way to 15,000.

In 2003, Thailand killed 2800 people in three months, later admitting that half didn't even commit drug-related crimes.

Source: Count the Costs

Children are losing parents left and right, leaving no one to raise them

Millions of children around the world have a parent incarcerated for a drug-related offence.

At least 50,000 Mexican children have lost a parent to the war on drugs.

These statistics imply numerous negative spillover effects, including children growing up in prisons and being tortured for evidence to be used against parents.

Source: Count the Costs

Law enforcement is targeting minorities way more than their counterparts

According to the Alternative World Drug Report, the percentage of minorities who deal or use drugs are 'almost identical to those of the rest of the population.'

However, 'if you are black in the US, you are 10.1 times more likely to be imprisoned for a drug offence than if you were white.'

Source: Count the Costs

Law enforcement is targeting low-income groups way more than their counterparts

The 'war on drugs' is unfairly criminalizing cultural traditions

International drug laws completely ignore the fact that entire indigenous cultures celebrate longstanding traditions related to drug use.

Thus, entire cultures, like those in the Andean region of Peru who chew coca leaves, are essentially deemed criminal by the United Nations.

Source: Count the Costs

The world has better alternatives that don't include death, destruction, and alienation

Other countries, such as Portugal, have shown us it's possible to decriminalize drugs.

The European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction says of the Portuguese experience:

While some want to see the Portuguese model as a first step towards the legalisation of drug use and others consider it as the new flagship of harm reduction, the model might in fact be best described as being a public health policy founded on values such as humanism, pragmatism, and participation.

Source: Count the Costs

Here's where illegal drugs are being consumed the most

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