Why The U.S. Is Losing The War On Drugs

CNBC published this video item, entitled “Why The U.S. Is Losing The War On Drugs” – below is their description.

Since 1971, America has spent over a trillion dollars fighting the war on drugs started by President Nixon. But the national attitude towards drug use and abuse has changed. Marijuana has been legalized in 15 states and Washington D.C. Meanwhile, drug use and overdose death rates are rising with the opioid crisis. And the U.S. has locked up more people in prison than ever; one in five of the almost 2.3 million incarcerated people are behind bars for a drug offense. So did the war on drugs work? Did the U.S. win the war on drugs? Watch the video to find out.

This June marks the 50th anniversary of the war on drugs, an ongoing campaign that has to a large extent reshaped American politics, society and the economy.

″[The goals of the war on drugs] were to literally eradicate all of the social, economic and health ills associated with drugs and drug abuse,” said Christopher Coyne, professor of economics at George Mason University. “It doesn’t get much more ambitious than that.”

Since 1971, America has spent over a trillion dollars enforcing its drug policy, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania. Yet many observers, both liberal and conservative, say the war on drugs has not paid off.

The campaign, launched by President Richard Nixon, has spanned multiple administrations and led to the creation of a dedicated federal agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Law enforcement was given an unprecedented level of authority with measures like mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants, recently reevaluated after the death of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by police in a botched drug raid.

“The drug war is a failed policy and the things that they said would happen — people would stop using drugs, communities would get back together, we’d be safe, they’d get drugs off the street — those things didn’t happen,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director at the Drug Policy Alliance, a national nonprofit that works to end the war on drugs.

Despite a steep decline in illicit drug usage in the earlier years, drug use in the U.S. is climbing again and more quickly than ever. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of illicit drug users rose to 13% of Americans 12 years or older in 2019, nearly reaching its peak from 40 years ago. If the goal of the war on drugs was to decrease drug usage and prevent drug-related deaths, it hasn’t made much progress.

“We are still in the midst of the most devastating drug epidemic in U.S. history,” according to Vanda Felbab-Brown, senior fellow at the Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology at Brookings Institution. In 2020, overdose deaths in the United States exceeded 90,000, compared with 70,630 in 2019, according to research from the Commonwealth Fund.

Yet, the federal government is spending more money than ever to enforce drug policies. In 1981, the federal budget for drug abuse prevention and control was just over a billion dollars. By 2020, that number had grown to $34.6 billion. When adjusted for inflation, CNBC found that it translates to a 1,090% increase in just 39 years.

According to the White House, the national drug control budget is estimated to hit a historic level of $41 billion by 2022. The largest increases in funding are requested to support drug treatment and drug prevention.

“In the overall scheme of how much the U.S. government spends, it’s not a huge amount,” said Coyne. “The bigger issue is that there’s a burden from an economic perspective because when you make something illegal, it has a series of consequences that affect all areas of life.”

CNBC YouTube Channel

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