March 1, 2012
Forty years ago, on 28 January 1972, President Richard Nixon signed his “war on drugs” into law. Drugs were “public enemy number one,” said Nixon, and action was necessary because addiction to narcotics had “assumed the dimensions of a national emergency”.
Four decades on, and the global clampdown on drugs continues unabated. From London to Bogota to Kabul, the same disastrous policies are being repeated with the same destructive consequences. As a Global Commission on Drug Policy report released in June 2010 argued, the global war on drugs has resulted in “devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world”.
In the years since President Nixon’s declaration, the US government has spent trillions of dollars attempting to destroy the illegal drugs trade – both at home and abroad. The U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion dollars in 2010 on the war on drugs, at a rate of around $500 per second. The human consequences are even more troubling. Around 90 per cent of all cocaine consumed in the US comes via Mexico – a place where, since 2006, over 47,000 people have been killed in President Philip Calderon’s violent battle with the drug cartels.
In Britain, the consequences of prohibition can be seen on the pallid faces of addicts desperately trying to make eye contact with shoppers on some of London’s busiest streets. Brushing them aside as they ask for change is straightforward enough, but you won’t get rid of them that easily. Nick Davies, in his 2008 book Flat Earth News, cites a confidential Downing Street report leaked to the press in 2005, which claimed black market drug users were responsible for 85 per cent of shoplifting, between 70 and 80 per cent of burglaries and 54 per cent of robberies. Inflated street prices mean a junkie must perpetually steal to fund his or her habit. In one of the many unintended consequences of prohibition, whenever the forces of law bring in a drugs haul the likelihood is they are inadvertently creating a shortage on the streets that will inflate prices further – along with local crime levels.