In a stark sign of the continuing erosion of the prohibitionist consensus on drug policy, the Associated Press late last month published the latest installment in an "occasional series" charting the failure of drug prohibition to achieve its stated aims. The article, Portugal's Drug Policy Pays Off; US Eyes Lessons, is the third so far to examine what the AP calls the failed "war on drugs after four decades and $1 trillion."
The article found that more people in Portugal tried drugs, but that fewer ended up addicted. It found small increases in illegal drug use among adults (along with most of the rest of Europe), but decreases among youth and problem drug users. It found that drug-related criminal cases declined by two-thirds and that drug-related HIV cases declined by three-fourths.
The article also touted the spread of harm reduction programs aimed at drug users, mentioning Vancouver's safe injection site, Switzerland's heroin maintenance program, and alternatives to jail available in 93 countries worldwide. It noted that an increasing number of American states and cities are embracing treatment not jail as an alternative approach, and that it seems to be working.
The first installment of the AP series appeared in May under the blunt title US Drug War Has Met None of Its Goals. The 2,200-word piece systematically savaged forty years of hard-line drug policy for failing to make a dent in drug use while throwing a trillion dollars down the rat hole. "The AP tracked where that money went, and found that the United States repeatedly increased budgets for programs that did little to stop the flow of drugs," the authors noted. It highlighted $20 billion to fight drug traffickers in their home countries, $33 billion in marketing "Just Say No" style messages aimed at youth, $49 billion to try to stop drug flows at the US-Mexico border, $121 billion to arrest some 37 million drug offenders, and $450 billion to lock them up.
The second installment in the AP series appeared early in December under the equally blunt title Cartel Arrests Did Not Curb Drug Trade and was a withering indictment of the futility of US prosecutions of Mexican drug trafficking organization members. Mass arrests of drug traffickers get loudly trumpeted by authorities, as when Attorney General Eric Holder announced a "crushing blow" to the Sinaloa Cartel in 2009 with the arrest of 761 people. But the AP's follow-up on the story found the arrests had no significant impact at all on the Sinaloa Cartel, which remains one of the strongest of Mexico' drug trafficking organizations. As the AP summed up: "The government is quick to boast about large arrests or drug seizures, but many of its most-publicized efforts result in little, if any, slowdown in the drug trade."
Kudos to the Associated Press for slaughtering the sacred cows of drug prohibition. We look forward to the next installment and the next steps toward ending drug prohibition.