In 1970, Gallup started polling on a new issue. Asking “Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?” Their first poll recorded 12% in support of legalization.
What happened the next year would prove the catalyst of a massive long-term shift in public opinion. President Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs, intensifying existent efforts to eradicate drug use and drug production. It would be the beginning of a expansive campaign, which has cost somewhere in the neighborhood of one trillion dollars. For comparison, the eight and a half year Iraq War only cost about $800 billion.
Forty-one years of intercepting drug shipments, dumping herbicide on Colombian and Bolivian farming villages, incarcerating a record number of people- in particular minorities and those who committed non-violent crimes. The consensus now is clear as day! The radical 12% in favor of legalization now is 50%. The War on Drugs has united a politically and demographically diverse in favor of liberalised drug laws.
One of the major effects of our failed experiment with alcohol prohibition was not reduced alcohol consumption, it was the establishment of a lucrative, violent black market for producing and transporting liquor. Elementary economics is clear- removing legal supply does not stop demand, it only consolidates illicit suppliers.
Narcotics cartels are not only prevalent, they have record profits. The huge American and European drug markets keep their hands (and pockets) full. One of the major Mexican cartels, the Zetas, was created after government commandos took a pay raise and stopped fighting drug lords- by forming their own criminal syndicates. Clamping down on these operations is now virtually impossible- they have an endless stream of money, and can train and arm a substantial security apparatus.
A bloody civil war in Mexico reached prominence in the past decade, while another in Colombia chugs on despite recent peace efforts. However much human labor and human life has been destroyed by decades of drug war fighting, it is an outrage.
All this work in other countries is worth it, because drug use has plummeted. Wait, what? No it hasn’t? In fact, it remains fairly high- and new drugs rise to replace those that have become impractical. The United States accounts for the largest part of global drug eradication efforts, yet is has a higher rate of abuse than any other country.
More people, and a higher proportion the population are incarcerated than in any other country- several times the rate of stellar human right advocates China, Nigeria, and Russia. In my own state of California, the prison population has increased sevenfold since I was born. No society in human history has imprisoned more of its own people. The rate has increased despite crime rates sliding in all areas since the early 90s. The media acknowledged this trend.
Drug awareness PSAs (which have been around since the war, and intensified in my generation) don’t have any recorded effect. Teens will do drugs, and reducing their use has more to do with after-school programs, better family dynamics, more competent schools. Thirty-second commercials can’t scare a generation to swear off pot.
Other countries have dealt with similar problems through policy changes. Portugal is the best example- a decade ago they decriminalized possession of all drugs in small amounts.
If you are caught using drugs they send you to counseling where they offer the resources they have- but they don’t usually send you to prison. Depending on the amount of drugs you are caught with, you may end up in the criminal system, but most are either ‘casual users’ and get a fine, or addicts who are directed to an extensive treatment system.
In ten years, drug abuse fell in half, and the number of drug-transmitted diseases are down as well. Some addicts will never be clean, but the system has helped many people get their lives back together. These superior results were achieved with a fraction of the cost of strong-armed drug enforcement.
Half of Americans say it is time to legalize it. Perhaps the country has matured a bit- and is separating the reality of drugs from the hyperbolic government view.. An increasing number of medical marijuana states has been coupled with various city and state measures that reduce the priority of marijuana use. Colorado and Washington state both passed ballot measures legalizing small amounts of pot for adults, and the long-term results of these actions may lead to more substantial evaluation of drug policy.