Drug wars and the balloon effect

By Bernd Debusmann
March 26, 2009

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate
– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Why have billions of dollars and thousands of anti-narcotics agents around the world failed to throttle the global traffic in cocaine, heroin and marijuana? Blame wrong-headed policies, largely driven by the United States, and what experts call the balloon effect.

Squeezing a balloon in one place makes it expand in another. Destroy drug crops in one region and cultivation moves to another. Cut a supply route in one place and another one springs up. Take the example of Colombia and Mexico, at present a focus of U.S. attention because of large-scale violence that threatens to spill across the border.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, almost all the cocaine consumed in the United States was grown in Colombia and shipped to South Florida along a variety of sea and air routes. Colombian traffickers fighting for market share turned Miami into a city where shootouts, contract killings and kidnappings became part of daily life.

That began to change when enraged citizens appealed to the federal government for help to crack down on the “cocaine cowboys.” Then President Ronald Reagan established a special force to cut the cocaine pipelines and end the violence. “The Mexicans must rue the day the South Florida Task Force was set up,” said Peter Reuter, a scholar at the University of Maryland. “That was the beginning of the problems it faces today.”

Within weeks of its formation in 1982, the task force scored several spectacular successes. A string of seizures of large quantities of cocaine and marijuana prompted Colombian trafficking organisations to shift their smuggling routes to Mexico, where they partnered with criminal networks.

By 1988, the balloon effect had become obvious: The Mexican Defence Ministry reported it had discovered 4.8 tonnes of cocaine in a cave in Chihuahua near the U.S. border. It was then the world’s biggest seizure of the drug. Its Colombian origin was not in doubt — Mexico produced no cocaine of its own.

Now, two decades later, the U.S. State Department estimates that as much as 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States comes through Mexico, which is also a major source of heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana. The State Department’s estimates speak volumes about the failure of policies that emphasised crop eradication, interdiction and punishment for drug users.


As a Latin American commission led by three former presidents (of Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil) put it recently: “Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the expected results. We are farther away than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs.”

If it were possible to seal the border, there would be no reason for Mexico’s drug mafias to wage war against each other. They are fighting for access to the main gateways into the U.S. In one border city alone, Ciudad Juarez, more than 1,000 people have been killed in the first two months of the year.

There has been growing criticism of the war on drugs, and not only from advocates of legalization who argue that drugs should be sold and regulated in the same way as alcohol and tobacco is now regulated.

On a visit to Mexico this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that “our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade.” Though it was a statement of the obvious — the drug trade is driven by the laws of supply and demand — officials of previous administrations have not been nearly as blunt.

Discussing the drug problem as a presidential candidate, Barack Obama he said he believed in “shifting the paradigm, shifting the model so that we can focus more on a public health approach.”

The public health approach, know as “harm reduction” in a global dispute over drug strategies, means treating drug addicts not as criminals who participate in an illegal market but as patients who deserve care in the public health system. Most of Europe favors harm reduction over filling the prisons with drug abusers, the standard procedure in the United States.

On any give day, about half a million people are behind bars in the United States for drug offences. Obama’s choice of drug czar, Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowski, signals a new direction, at least in the drug war at home. Seattle has been on the forefront of drug reform developments, including a needle exchange program for addicts. And for Seattle police, marijuana arrests have been the lowest law enforcement priority.

The drug czar heads the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, a 130-member group which sets anti-drug policy. “The success of our efforts to reduce the flow of drugs is largely dependent on our ability to reduce demand for them,” Kerlikowske said after his nomination.

Reducing demand for illicit drugs in the United States, the world’s largest market, is an ambitious goal. Earlier attempts have failed, including Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. A program still active called DARE — Drug Abuse Resistance Education — aimed at high school students is drawing mixed reviews.

But optimists point to the success of campaigns to discourage smoking by making it socially unacceptable. It took a long time. But it worked.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Got this quote from an archived newspaper from April 15, 1929.

“School officials, welfare workers and police announced they would start an investigation to drive out the bootleggers who have been furnishing liquor to school children.”

Does this sound familiar? How about this quote from 2008

“Colorado Springs police confirm to 11 News they are conducting a drug investigation at Cheyenne Mountain High School. Police say the investigation began when a detective was asked to assist school officials with a student who had been in possession…”

Is it possible that making drugs illegal had the same effect back in the 1920′s? Only then it was alcohol.

See, when you make something illegal, you create a criminal. Before it was illegal, he was just this guy. A good guy, who was enjoying his glass of beer. But then, you said he was a criminal. So he acted that way. Then you repealed the law that said he was a criminal, so he didn’t act like one anymore.

What happens to the drug users when you tell them they aren’t criminals. Every time a law is made a citizen somewhere becomes a criminal. Some actions deserve to be criminalized. Murder, rape, theft, child abuse; these actions deserve to be labeled crimes. But drug abuse shouldn’t be a crime.

But, we have to be aware of the economic dangers of legalization. Sure the government will gain many billions of much needed dollars per year in revenue. However, the unemployment rate will go up because millions of people who are in prision will now be looking for gainful employment. Hundreds of thousands of corrections officers, policement, lawyers (I don’t hear any crying over the lawyers), DEA agents, and others profiting on the War on Drugs will also be looking for jobs. As well, sources of revenue for dealers and drug traffickers will dry up. Michael Phelps will get to design and market his own line of bongs.

Perhaps we should live with the violence and death and moral decay of our current system. After all, we wouldn’t want to put anyone out of work. Isn’t some corruption and violence and the risk of contaminated drugs in the supply a better alternative to higher revenue, lower crime, a .2% increase in unemployment, and better control of the quality and availability of drugs being sold in the United states.

Its a tough choice.

Posted by Lord Astral | Report as abusive

Drug legalisation is futile. Prevention and protection fail. An overcrowded society, broken by boredom and inequality, will continue to seek escape at any price.

Posted by Bill van Heerden | Report as abusive

March 26th, 2009 5:14 pm GMT – Posted by Jon Barry

The drub problem was and is always simple.
Jon Barry is a complete moron, why doesn’t he go live in the middle east with the rest of the animals that believe in this sort of thing, look what he wrote:

“Go after the user, and the user’s parents if the user is a minor. Do a drug test, [ no court case, no judge..just two quick tests and the test is the court] person fails the test, cut off a finger..automatic and swift punishment and send the offender to the doc and then home. Quite simple, they will never run out of toes and fingers, I doubt seriously they are doing much drugs after that. In the case of the minor..take the mothers finger off first and then the fathers, rotating them till the kid or kids stop.”

Posted by Adam | Report as abusive

Singapore has no drug problem. Get caught with more than 15 grams of herion, you are executed within 30 days, usually. The social stigma in Singapore is very, very high, and that means that most druggies are caught, quickly. REgistered addict and Singapore gives you your fix.

Posted by Larry | Report as abusive

The problem is the war on drugs has become a huge industry employing thousands of privately run prisons, prison guards, agents, cops, and a hole host of others. Sadly, it’s no longer which policy is right; it’s which makes more money.

Posted by Matt | Report as abusive

Drug Warrior, people like you are part of the problem.. You have become so indoctrinated by the system as it exists today that you shut out ideas that could actually improve the system. Yes, alcohol is a DRUG and you will never convince any intelligent person otherwise. Prohibition only increases the value to the point of violence as a means of controlling capitol. You make me sick, is it lonely up there on your pedestal? Ohhh, I went to law school…good for you dude, I am sorry you never learned to think outside the box.

Posted by Adam | Report as abusive

Prohibition remains prohibition, whatever substance it forbids to use.

Remember alcohool prohibition didnt work.

Reminds me Soviet attempt to forbid religions, people were praying in their basements.

War on Drugs is a joke, unfortunately many non-violent people pay an heavy price being jailed sometimes more than hitmen, rapists, and for drugs use go wonder…

How much longer will it take for the US citizens to raise against the absurdity of that war. We only created a huge black market, street violence, corruption, lobbies, private prisons needing more and more people prosecuted.

If only I could see one good thing about that so called “War on drugs”, one field where they succeeded that wasnt immediately washed by another cartel providing MORE drugs I would be glad.

The problem with our policy is that it’s totaly wrong. Everyone looses, except the very few that make HUGE money within the system. I beleive it is time to try some other policies, and why not legalization at least a try, because remember there’s almost no way we could fail as bad as we did with the War on Drugs, worth a try.

Posted by Wiz | Report as abusive

The balloon analogy is very good. To extend the analogy if the size of the balloon is determined by the profit to be made then the way to puncture the balloon is to remove the profit. This is a medical and economic problem. For cocaine and heroin provide it for free with a doctor’s perscription which would destroy the market and eliminated the pushers. Provide the doctors with the ability to route users into counseling and detox programs. Legalize marijuana and tax it just like cigarettes. For stuff like meth keep it illegal and increase the education programs.

Posted by Bill | Report as abusive

The type of drug policies actually in law in this country would be more appropriate in a more oppressive regime like China, the old U.S.S.R. and Nazi Germany. There is no intellectual excuse for destroying so many people’s lives and causing wars and voilence. How many millions have been killed because of the war on drugs because of the crime, violence, and power struggles it causes. Stop the Drug Czar, stop evil organizations like DARE, get rid of the DEA, etc. Ahh, and violence immediately goes down and police can focus on real crime.

Posted by DrugCzarRealNameisJosephGoebbel | Report as abusive

Good luck Prohibitionists, trying to control human nature. [Suckers], how can you ever win a war against narcotics when it’s allied with poverty? And Anderson’s shabby journalism with the evil man you watched on CNN last night was embarassing to watch. Especially his suggestion that addicts are guilty of the wave of murders going on in Mexico. Of course murderers shall lay blame on others. It’s only logical for the accused to spread blame, but the bottom line is addicts, from pot smokers to crackheads, didn’t hold guns to the heads of Mexicans and pull the triggers. You ignoramaces, have you forgotten human nature? Whenever you’re dealing with an addict, no matter whether they’re smoking in a room among others, or shooting herion alone, they’re addiction shall not beg your forgiveness. You wanna fight drug use effectively? Put down your worthless Bibles and stop praying. Legalize and tax the drugs. Put the funds raised in a nationwide anti-drug and rehab program and salvage countless numbers of otherwise failed lives. I’m sure you would rather see impoverished junkies get free therapy then tax paid jail time without any recourse towards rehabilitation.

Posted by Freddy | Report as abusive

How to handle gambling, alcohol, prostitution, leisure drugs, – legalize and tax. No need for income tax. No need for tariffs. At last the citizens will look forward to paying their taxes. There is no more balloon. Come on folks – When has ever legislating morality created a virtuous nation?

Nothing surprising here, you have one nut job in Jon Barry advocating torture, Palin 2012 baby.

Then you have a city prosecutor, a member of the system, supporting the system that pays his bills.

Then you have the most annoying, the idiots who think that everyone who wants the drug war to end are drug using hippies. Again, never used weed or any illegal drug once in my life and never will and I’m 100% for legalizing all drugs.

I’m big on personal freedom, I don’t own a gun but want people to be able to own them. I’m agnostic but I want everyone to be able to choose their religion, even if I deem them crazy or silly.

Those of us who want the drug war over are also aware of how bad drugs are, we’re also aware of how bad killing people with guns are, killing people while driving is, this is all about personal responsibility. Drugs are bad, but locking up non-violent drug users and turning them into violent members of society is not only stupid, it’s insane.

I respect the perspective of people who want drugs to remain illegal as long as they’re including alcohol and nicotine because no rational person can tell me marijuana is more destructive than alcohol.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

I have followed all this with interest. The bottom line is that not a single fix will actually work other than the one I propose. It might sound harsh, but that is exactly what was required when China had a terrible opium problem, a problem that the British created.

If the user is not targeted and with something other than incarceration [unreasonably costly, and already the US has the largest per capita of people in prison, way larger than any other country in the world] then this war cannot be won. Legalizing drugs only makes zombies of our citizens who partake and more and more would absolutely partake, and the decline of the US as a leading nation will continue its already downward spiral.

This punishment of chopping off a finger or toe is harsh, but truthfully, what kid or person would do this anymore if a few of them had it done. So, it is fine to place the user in jail, but the burden then is on the people who pay taxes and do not use drugs to keep them in the jail, and it is expensive. We already have high taxes and they are going to get higher because of the wars we have, the greed of wall street, the lack of a decent health care system, and the lack of a viable mass transit system plus the continuation of the drain of our wealth to feed the automobiles we drive because our auto manufactures had trained our drivers to be addicted to SUV’s and the like.

Now we are advocating that we either legalize the drugs, or jail the users and dealers. The dealers have more money to throw at the problem than our government.

Sure a finger or toe is extreme, but in reality, is it. In less than a year after this would be implemented, drug use would be so reduced that it would not longer be a problem. Is it better that 8000 people have already been killed by each other in drug wars, or would those lives be better served in some productive way, and what about the drug overdoses in this country? How many deaths does that cause. Nobody really wants to solve the problem. We would rather just talk about it.

Drug tests are pretty darn foolproof, and they can be made totally foolproof. If you fail, you lose a digit. You would never lose a second one. You would quit. I guess you could let the loser chose which one to lose on the first time and the second time it could be a thumb which would be pretty serious.

Quit talking about the problem and do what is truly the only real viable solution which we can all afford. It will save lives, money and make better people out of those who stop using due to the punishment. Jail in this country has already proven to be no deterrent to anything.

Jon Barry

Posted by Jon Barry | Report as abusive

Jon Barry just please stop posting you’re insane.

Your daugher gets caught with an ounce of weed, you gonna be ok with the government hacking off her thumb?

Yes our government is trash, but advocating us to be more like the Chinese government is the stupidest blather I’ve ever read.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Lions and tiger and bears…oh my! What a bunch of prattle.. Gateway drugs, chopping body parts off of users, blah, blah,blah. The whole thing is about money. That’s it. Money. The “cartels” in Latin America are poor boys looking for the gold. And they found it. Good for them. Just like the boys at AIG, Merrill Lynch, etc. they found the gold and like anyone caught in the throws of “gold fever” these guys will react violently when their “stash of cash” is threatened. And this threat can be either real or perceived. So all the talk around doing something about the drug trade is just that…talk. The real issue is money and disparity in distribution. The Cartels that control the money are simply more dangerous than any drug “cartel” could be. The real Cartels will go to war and kill millions in the course of insuring that the money does flow. They destroy millions of lives by controlling the money and enforcing poverty on millions of others. And we in America see these Cartels as something to praise and give homage to? The collapse of this country is not because someone is smoking a joint in secret, but because of the volume of innocent blood on our hands. We are awash in it. From the European conquest of the New World and the killing of millions of natives to the invasion of Iraq and the killing of millions of Iraqis since 1991. Our addiction is MONEY and OIL. Focus people, its not about patriotism, it’s about human survival. Let’s get off the real drugs and look at a future where all resources are the property of humans not the property of a few stoned, drunk, myopic, money crazed bankers who can’t control themselves and haven’t had an original thought since day one.

Posted by rummel | Report as abusive

Logic and reason are concepts Americans have not warmed up to in over 50 years. Clearly common sense is not very common. As long as public policy is debated from the stand point of dogma and other preconceived notions, working solutions to mitigate the ills that drug use visits upon society will elude us.

Thomas Jefferson stated the sole legitimate function of government is to intercede where the the actions of one party or individual interferes with another party or parties exercise of their inalienable rights. Nothing more.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

the consensus seems to be pointing to certainly some degree of legalisation with a sliding grade of censorship in place to protect the young.

with the exception of heroin (quite the one way street for most) in my opinion, there does appear to be less consequences to the individual and those in the immediate vicinity when the drug of choice is of an organic nature. good quality, old-school bush buds, indulged on a daily basis with the odd blast of high-cut cocaine for special occasions, when there was a little bit of Tim Buckley playing and the festive mood was nigh was a good thing.

from the day the chemists became involved a whole range of social dehabilitatingconditions became apparent.

it must be remembered that mind altering substances were first developed by the Nazi regime for prisoner interorgations and torture. from my understanding these manufactured drugs were the precursors to LSD(acid) subtly infiltrated into Western Society after WW2 by rogue spies. acid has familied out into all the drugs of a severe problematic nature, for example:
max grade hydroponic, chemically enhanced pot
ice etc

these drugs are nasty pieces of work with an even nastier lineage and should be treated as highly dangerous.

I am of the firm belief if a (currently illicit) recreational drug can be grown organically, biodynamically, in a sustainable manner and nourished by the gods of the sun and rains it should be freely available to the market.

after all the world is converging to a free market economy ~ make it free Man ~ I want ta jamm it wit you…

Posted by sweeny'60s | Report as abusive

Michael- you are almost entirely correct. Marijuana is much more carcinogenic than tobacco particularly as it is usually smoked filterless. It is one of the most complex plant substances with over 200 active chemicals,some of which have not been studied. However here in Ireland cigarettes kill twenty people a day and most hospital interaction is alcohol related. One further idea- all prisons should be self financing-why should any semi skilled labour,manufacturing or service endeavour be exported when criminals are housed and fed for nil effort and at a 70,000 euro/dollar cost annually.

Posted by phrage | Report as abusive

It is amusing to see the authoritarian sadists of both left and right persuasion agree that torture, whether by incarceration or more grisly methods is the “right” approach to dealing with what is clearly a personal medical issue.

Suggested reading would be David D. Friedman’s works on the economics of law and law enforcement. Posner’s works are also pretty good.

Posted by Alfred Montestruc | Report as abusive

You’d think people could learn from history! Prohibition was the biggest single cause for the advancement of massive organized crime in America between 1919 and 1933, when the only source of alcohol was through criminal gangs.

Exactly the same is true of drugs – you can only get them through criminals (unless you have genuine medical reasons), so prohibition of drugs is having the effect of encouraging criminal organizations.

Several European countries who were brave enough to try it have found that de-criminalizing drugs have not had any increase in drug abuse, but they have seen a signicant reduction in violent crime by addicts needing money to buy illegal drugs. They have also seen a significant reduction in drug-related deaths due to overdose and adulteration.

This only supports the idea of a paradigm shift on the subject. Real, scientifically- based education is the best way to get our teenagers on board, not the rabid anti-drug nonsense taught in the past. Smoking pot does not make anyone into a rapist, murderer or thief, any more than a couple of beers does.

What smoking pot does currently is put users in touch with criminals (dealers), which in turn opens them up to pressure to try something new – smoking pot isn’t the gate-way, but having to go to a drug dealer is!

Posted by Marius Rowell | Report as abusive


Most people who write about this issue don’t really understand the difference. They automatically “assume” that the only way to take the money out of illegal drugs is just by making them “legal.”

That causes enormous confusion. There are clear differences.

Legalization: Refers to making it entire legal to use, sell, destribute and possess various drugs, usually with licensure and taxes.

Decriminalization: Refers to conferring “legal permission” to possess a certain amount of a drug, but does not extend to the sale of it. Sales are usually permitted under a “don’t ask,don’t tell” format with specific quantities permitted.

There is a huge difference. The drug cartels FEAR decriminalization, because it will take the enormous profits out of drugs, since obtaining it will not be illegal, as long as it is sold in “small” amounts.

Of course addicts will still be destroyed by the drugs. That has never changed.

What is NOT discussed, is that the actual percentage of clinical addicts does NOT typically change very much in ANY society, no matter the legal policy of that population.

I pose the question to those who don’t use drugs: “Would you start using them if they were decriminalized?”

The percentage who answer yes is not different in any population, no matter what legal policies exist at the time. I do not abuse drugs or alcohol. Neither do my children. They won’t either, even if it is legal to possess various drugs.

That’s my point, and it is backed by the literature.

And yes, inhaled pot is just as dangerous to the lungs as tobacco, and may be worse. Your lungs were not “manufactured” to breathe in junk. Even third graders would easily understand that.

I have no objection to your using drugs, but I don’t want to be in an auto-accident that you cause because of it…nor do I want to pay your health-care costs as a result of your using.

And, I believe I speak for many other posters on this as well.

And yes, I am a doctor.


Posted by sanjosemike | Report as abusive

Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001. Apparently this has been a success on many fronts. See Glenn Greenwald’s Cato Institute study or his article, ‘The Success of Drug Decriminalization in Portugal’:
http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2 009/03/14/portugal/

And, marijuana is less likely to cause cancer than tobacco smoke:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/200 5/10/051019003339.htm

If self or societal harm is the only reason why these drugs should be outlawed, than why not outlaw tobacco (kills 400,000 per in the US alone) or alcohol?

I wish an honest talk about drugs, drug abuse, & solving the problem could occur in this country without the propaganda. Prohibition and draconian penalties just raise both the price & level of violence, putting more profits into the pockets of the cartels and bolstering their control and influence.

Posted by tito | Report as abusive

“Parents: The Anti-Drug” doth not drug abuse policy maketh. Neither doth “Just Say No.”

Posted by Panchi | Report as abusive

Rather than squeezing the balloon, you’ve got to let the air out of the ballon somehow. How to extend the analogy is the question… Should you gently open it or just prick it so it’ll pop?

Posted by Panchi | Report as abusive

Nothing is going to stop people from buying drugs. History has shown us 3 very simple facts.
1. People continue to buy illegal drugs – legal
prohibition of drugs has failed – as it failed with
2. Legalize drugs and you eliminate the profit motive
for drug cartels.
3. Eliminate a profit motive for drug cartels, and they
no longer obtain ower.

Posted by David Long | Report as abusive

First, a disclaimer: I am a regular user of heavy drugs.
No, not for recreational purpose. Right now, there’s an unopened package of 60 pills of Oxycodone in my medicine cabinet. And another one, about half-finished. And I will give all of them, and then some cash on top of it, for one good, not herniated, spinal disk – too bad only God seems to be able to give me one, and He seems to be not in a hurry to answer my prayers. The doctors can provide only temporary relief. And as many narcotics prescriptions as I care to ask for.
No, I’m not high now. Not the last couple of months, but I truly fear the moment I’ll need to take the drugs again. Who ever had that kind of back pain would understand.
The point is, I have free access to the drugs, and they cost me next to nothing – just $10 copay for 60 pills, and I didn’t become a junkie. Nor anyone in my family, even though I don’t keep drugs in a vault.
Jon Barry, what you’d suggest to do with me and all other legit drug users? When I take the drugs I sure would fail the test. As far as I know the tests don’t differ between opioid painkillers and opium derived recreational drugs, besides prescription drugs are known to be illicitly traded and used for recreation purposes. Chopping off fingers and toes out of court just for failing the test? I only have so many fingers. And unlike the junkies I have no free choice – I take the drugs when and because it hurts.
Drug Warrior, you should know better that a junkie will do anything for a fix he/she craves. They would beg, steal, prostitute themselves, some would even murder. So would alcoholics, by the way. But usually junkies get it, one way or the other. Wouldn’t it be better that they could get it openly, reasonably priced, guaranteed quality, and in quantities that would not cause OD? All without enriching the local dealer and all the criminal chain behind him? And if prices go down (no risk premium) there would be less need for them to commit crimes. And if drugs are destigmatized, some of those junkies would actually be able to hold on to jobs – it’s none of employer’s business if an employee has a few drinks after work, same should be with joints and pills, as long as he/she doesn’t report to work high. And you know better about how law enforcement deals with whoever and however provides alcohol to minors or involves them into sexual activities – the ones who provide drugs to minors should be dealt with the same way, or even harsher if you wish so.
Sure there will be some individuals that destroy themselves – but they can do so now with alcohol. However the whole criminal chain of drug production, trafficking, and distribution will get dismantled by itself, since there’ll be no money to make in it. And instead of armed gangs, the police will be dealing with DWI by narcotics, but are they not doing so now with DWI by alcohol?

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Decriminalization of drugs is the only answer. It is an outrage that the nation that most adamantly touts the wonders of free markets wages a supply-side war on its most destructive habit. What a joke–by our own economic reasoning, the war on drugs has been doomed to failure from the start. The demand for drugs is the problem. Period. The problem is us–not Mexico, not Afghanistan, not Burma.

It is heartening to hear Obama administration officials name demand as the key issue. In fact, since it has identified health care reform as a major initiative, no time has ever been better for killing the war on drugs. Let’s eliminate a huge chunk of the massive public spending on drugs and drug-related accidents and deaths by targeting the war on drugs within the development of comprehensive and reasonable health care reform. Let’s finally end this insanity.

Posted by Brandon | Report as abusive

Legalize the stuff,and the drugs mafia will be gone until tomorrow!

The fear mongerers seem to think (not know) that decriminalization will create more addicts and more property crime. This has not been proven in societies where heroin has been decriminalized. Here are a few examples:

http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2 009/03/14/portugal/index.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/01/world/ europe/01swiss.html

You can find much more on this subject on the web. It appears that society does not crumble, crime does not skyrocket and those addicts can live more normal lives as productive citizens when the risk factor is removed and the price crashes. On average a hundred dollar a day habit in the US cost about as much as a latte from Starbucks where heroin is legal. So the argument of users having to commit crime to get their fix dissolves.

Now lets take a look at the most prevalent drug used in the world, marijuana. Study after study has shown this drug to be less harmful to the user and society than alcohol or tobacco yet it is still illegal. The fear mongers will tell you it is “dangerous” to your health. It is bad for your lungs. So is living in LA but life long studies in Jamaica by the NIMH seems to disagree with the fear monger’s finding. It seems that the rate of lung cancer is no greater than a non-smoker (tobacco) and there does not seem to be any psychological issues with long term use. Here is a site with various research. you can google the research titles for more info from the studies.

http://www.schmoo.co.uk/thclub/research. htm

In study after study the absolute worst drug for both your health and society is alcohol. Yet, somehow our society seems to be able to deal with its legality.

So why do the fear mongers continue to cower at the idea of legalization? Could their be other hidden agendas?

If the US legalized recreational drugs today who would be hurt? Not the users. Dealers would change and new forms of distribution would arise and be licensed so that is a wash. So who? Just ask yourself “where’s the Money!” The money is in Wholesale distribution. These are the “cartels” they keep speaking about. Law Enforcement would lose funding (this includes the DEA and FBI) and some of us who lived through the Viet Nam war would also say the CIA. Commercialized prisons would lose since there would be a significant drop in new inmates. If you haven’t noticed I just listed some very powerful lobbyists. And, their army are the people who have a type of personality that makes them think they know what is best for everyone else regardless of personal freedoms and rights. Like the one who thinks all we have to do is start lopping off body parts and demand will stop. All they want is for you to toe their line regardless of the Constitution or what this country was founded upon, freedom. The right to be left alone unless you are violating someone else’s rights. Even our Founding Fathers smoked Marijuana. They just called it Hemp.

I am tired of the Right Wing Christians and any other religion, Wealthy International cartels, and self serving law enforcement swaying our Congress to maintain laws that go against what this nation was founded upon.

Tell your Congressmen! Tell the White House! Tell them you are fed up the the stupidity and destructiveness of the War on Drugs.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

This is a complex problem and there are no simple solutions.
For instance, where I live, in Louisiana, the LEGAL drug companies now dominate the illegal drug trade. Most of the addicts I know use legal pills – illegally. The drug companies know this, the doctors know this and the pharmacists know this – but they all want the money.
At least half the women I know and about
1/4 of the men eat pills. Oxycontin, Soma, Lortabs – the list is endless. Some of them get the pills free – insurance or government pays. Many get almost unlimited prescriptions and sell the extra pills or give them away.
I’m talking about people with jobs, families and houses – not people skulking in an alley. These pills are very potent and quite addictive. I have seen what they do to the users. They – and their
families – pay a price, just like with any drug. How are you going to stop the big drug companies who have congress in their back pockets? The biggest drug dealers where I live are doctors and pharmacists.

Posted by jacques redou | Report as abusive

If the problem is illegal drugs, and yes, I acknowledge that there is also a problem with legal drugs, then you have to stop the user from using them. I was in Viet Nam as a helicopter pilot there in 1969. I had never run into marijuana until I got there, and even then not until I was officer of the guard near the end of my tour. When I came home, people were smoking it all over the place. I watched over the years as more and more drugs became popular, cocaine was at parties all over the place, popular with the new young white collar crowd.

Our country used to be a safe place, no drive by shootings when I was a kid, and now, no place is safe. We have blacks killing blacks over drugs, latins killing latins over drugs, and all we ever do is incarcerate more and more people, and the new rich in the ghettos, well, they are the drug dealers. It provides a way to have money where these youth would never get it otherwise.

All that is ever done is talk. Since I came back from Viet Nam, how many people have died from illegal drugs? I am sure a whole lot more than died from 9/11, which we spent billions on.

Like alcohol, a great legal drug, the death toll is thousands and thousands. And you ask, would I like my daughter to be spared her finger if she was caught. Well, ask yourself this. Spare your daughter the finger, and go to her funeral when she over doses, or go to the stranger’s funeral after she does a head on collision with him in a car accident where she is loaded. How many accidents kill people like this.

It is easy for you to say to do nothing as is what almost everyone else says. Who here wants to pay the additional taxes to jail all the users. Nobody. It is all talk, and there is no beating these dealers unless we stop the traffic. You cannot stop the traffic as long as there are users. Today, there is justice. If you have money, you can beat any drug arrest, and if you are broke, there is only so long that they are going to keep you in jail.

We can continue to have the problem, and it is already more than 40 years a major problem with the problem getting worse every year. No end in sight.

No, I want to spare my daughter, and I want to spare her victims, I want recreational drug use ended. It has killed enough people already. Where does it end..never unless really drastic action that means business is taken. Nobody is up to the task. It is sad. Better to just watch the others die than to do what it takes.

Jon Barry

Posted by Jon Barry | Report as abusive

Jon I guess I respect your opinion but it’s 100% wrong.

You didn’t really answer the question but the reality is, no you wouldn’t be ok with your daughter having her thumb hacked off for having an ounce of weed. Sounds like you wouldn’t mind someone else’s daughter losing her thumb though, just as long as you don’t know her.

Drugs don’t kill people, people kill people. Same with guns, same with alcohol. Just as anyone who’s willing to commit suicide these people need help, not to be criminalized or further criminalized like you’re advocating for.

Ironic thing is these right wingers who advocate for less government think every issue should be solved by more government. National security, War on Drugs, church funding, the mouth I was born with only has one side to talke out of, unlike all of them.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

Where do I start? First of all to control drugs you regulate drugs. If you make them illegal you lose control and give it to others who operate outside the law. In almost every instance when drugs laws have been relaxed the use has DROPPED. Marijuana is MUCH safer than alcohol and tobacco. It has been proven to be, at most, as addictive as caffeine. But, I digress. Personally, I think all drugs should be legal as they have been in the past. Deal with abusers as a health issue. Does anyone thing prohibition has worked?
A study commissioned by the US government said criminalization of hemp causes many more problems than allowing its use. Prohibition has caused enormous problems including turning our country into a virtual police state. There are a lot of people making a lot of money on the status quo. They don’t want to see changes to our policies. Drug companies may lose money. Law enforcement and prisons systems lose money. Logging and paper and even wood products would suffer. Distillers would suffer. I could go on and on. Who funds the opposition to most legislation? Distillers and prison guard unions do. Surprised? Oh, by the way, drug tests, especially the inexpensive ones are notoriously inaccurate. Anyone who espouses we judge or make any important decisions (much less mutilating our citizens) based on these tests is a fool. Think people. Look at our history.
Look who benefits from prohibition and who suffers. I haven’t included citations but they are easy to find here -> http://www.norml. org. Changing our drug laws can make enormous improvements to our quality of life and the lives around us. Be logical and use science based making decisions. The are no real arguments left to justify the “War on Drugs”. Thanks for reading all of this,
Did you know many recent studies show strong anti-tumor and antibacterial properties of marijuana? See Harvard lung cancer study released this week.

Posted by Ken Sherman | Report as abusive

“Since I came back from Viet Nam, how many people have died from illegal drugs? [...] Like alcohol, a great legal drug, the death toll is thousands and thousands.”

The number of people who have died from illegal drugs is likely very small: marijuana and LSD don’t kill people at all, and it is doubtful whether most of the deaths attributed to opiates (overdoses, etc.) actually are due to the drug itself, rather than impurities. Unlike illegal drugs, alcohol and cigarettes do kill huge numbers of people because they directly destroy people’s health.

Legalizing drugs with medicine-like supervision, quality control and distribution would probably eliminate drug deaths altogether.

It’s also doubtful that legalization would increase the number of users much; anybody who wants to obtain drugs can obtain them today.

“No, I want to spare my daughter, and I want to spare her victims, I want recreational drug use ended.”

Well, you can want a lot of things, but the number of lives it costs to end recreational drug use is likely much higher than the number of lives drug use itself costs. It’s people like you who are responsible for most of the drug-related deaths in this country.

Posted by Mike Jones | Report as abusive

As a person who does not use marijuana (not since college, anyway) and uses alcohol moderately, many find it odd to hear me say that I would prefer legal use of marijuana to legal use of alcohol (and cigarettes). We know how the story ended with the prohibition of alcohol. The societal ramifications of prohibitionist policies are unacceptable, and I don’t think it’s a secret that alcohol is far more harmful physically and socially than than marijuana.

If I may quote Ken Sherman to argue an unrelated point:
“If you make them illegal you lose control and give it to others who operate outside the law”

This is exactly the language liberals should consider in re: gun laws. Funny, how that argument only has merit when spoken by a liberal.

Posted by doctherooster | Report as abusive

“For our own good” is the reason the government throws peaceful drug users into prison with murderers and rapists. Hey, I appreciate the concern but please don’t do us any favors!

And I thought our country was all about pro-choice with our own bodies. What it really means is we can kill our babies (another’s body) but we cannot control what we put into our own bodies. Whatever happened to “The Land of the Free?”

Posted by Geo | Report as abusive

Why blame it on Mexico? The drugs that the US imports are making far more money for the US drug dealers than the estimated $53 billion (no typo here) going to Mexico. American demand makes Mexican supply.

Make pot legal which eliminates 70% of the cartel’s profit. Tax the hell out of gun & ammo manufacturers and restrict production of military type assault weapons. Focus on meth, coke and heroin, the real killers. Problem solved.

Posted by Falconium | Report as abusive

Contact your congressman and let them know you are fed up with the devastation the War on Drugs is doing not only to this country but other countries around the world. Tell them you want to legalize marijuana and decriminalize and medicalize heroin and cocaine. To much of our tax money goes down the drain and is causing pain and suffering in support of the War on Drugs. The prohibitionists need to be stopped! This is a free country. We do not want more repressive laws. We want to take the profits of the drug trade away from the gangsters and put it in the hands of honest entrepreneurs where sales can be regulated and taxed. We want law enforcement to focus on real crime like rape, murder, theft and other crimes with real victims.


Also contact the White House:


Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive


One thing for sure is that the war on drugs has failed. Another thing is that, in my opinion, we cannot legislate morality. And, too often, additction to any substance has been confused with insufficient levels of morality.

So, for a moment, let’s attempt to take the emotionalism and the politics out of addiction to chemicals. I am including the legal (alcohol, nicotine, and all prescribed narcotics) as well as the street-traded chemicals. Evidence supports that when people want a chemical, they will obtain it. When the chemical has the profit of the black market associated with it, they will kill each other for it. Witness Prohibition in the United States and Al Capone and friends. Illegalization of alcohol only made huge profits and gangland style killings. Same of more drinking, same or more levels of alcoholism, just more killing for profits.

Ergo, the war on drugs. You cannot end addition from legislation. What you can end is obscene profits and gangland killings. If we want to stop the violence, study Prohibition and draw lessons from our own history.

Posted by A M Lane | Report as abusive

Amerika’s so called ‘War on Drrrugs’ is an immoral and despicable policy promoted and $ustained by myopic fascist dunderheads with the insight of rabid dogs. The soidisant ‘War’ has disenfranchised the lives (and the livelihoods) of tens of millions of Americans over the decades; it is a complete waste of resources. A national disgrace! Let me reiterate! A national disgrace!

Drrrug prohibition has created vast untaxed and unregulated black market $ystems… created a huge prison industry… and also has fostered an extremely violent gang culture that corrodes the foundations and institutions of civil $ociety. Elliot Ness did NOT put an end to the violent gangs of the 1920s and 1930s. Ending prohibition did that. Wake up! See it!

100 years from now… people will look back at the damn ‘War on Drrrugs’ in a manner that we presently view $lavery, child pornography, poligamy, cannibalism, etc.

The ‘War on Drrrugs’ must be replaced with decriminalization, legalization, regulation and taxation… the things that drrrug cartels and the prison industry fear the most!

Posted by RICHARD RALPH ROEHL | Report as abusive

Government leaders in the U.S. are above the law. They conduct themselves with impunity. Why is the Spanish court looking into war crimes and international law violations and our justice system is silent? As long as drugs remain illegal, what is done with the profits can not be determined. This cash cow is the perfect slush fund for government operatives who assist in the delivery of narcotics across our borders. The scope of coups, wars and other illegal activities that have been secretly funded by inner circles of our government can never be fully known.

Successful prosecutors follow the money. With legal transactions there is a paper trail. Regulation, taxation account transactions of all parties involved can be monitored if probable cause is established. This would make it to difficult to funnel money around the world to be used for supporting violent unrest and destabilization of governments that exercise self determination and not our will.

We cannot see the forest for the tree.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

The illegal drug industry is too big to fail. As long as Congress controls the War on Drugs, the illegal drug industry has a perfect way to keep themselves in business. Al Capone wasn’t rich enough or smart enough to keep Prohibition going, but the illegal drug industry is much bigger than his operation, and they can hire all the PR people they want to so that the War on Drugs will go on forever.

Posted by J Smit | Report as abusive


Everyone has the right to have an opinion but I am also confirming that your almost 100% wrong.

You mentionned Singapore as an example, I wouldnt do so. They may get rid of the simple drug users but with their secret banking system they welcome the money of drug traffickers as long as they have enough millions…

Besides you could mention China who also have a crazy repressive system against users, and well even without looking for anything there I got proposed some pot.

There is NONE who can stop the traffic, not me, not you nor your ideas. The only thing we may control a little is the production by taking the prices of all drugs so low that none makes huge profits anymore.

You can loose a million lives trying to solve the issue another way, wont work !

Just take a look where the drugs are made, you may find it funny that in many cases there is a war going in the area. No other way to sponsor military ops.

A great example, Lebanon was #1 Hash producer during their civil war years, peace happened there finaly and well you cant almost find any pot coming from this place anymore. Now it’s Morocco who’s #1 and guess what, they have a decades long conflict going in the western Sahara.

It is no secret that in most cases the States or organized rebels are behind drugs production (Afghanistan, Colombia, Morroco, and so on), you wouldnt be able to get any war going with income taxes of morrocans beleive me.

The real problem is to quit thinking with our hearts and start to do so with our brains, and maybe one day we will eradicate a good part of this misery.

Posted by Wiz | Report as abusive

Legalize it! Make it available in small quantities very cheap! Take the profit out of the crooks hands! They will move to a new money source!

Posted by rachael | Report as abusive

a war on the supply side of drugs serves only to increase the price of the drug delivered to the users and its efficacy hangs on an assumed price elasticity of demand. among the many reasons for the failure of the war on drug supply the most important one i believe is that the assumed price elasticity does not exist. if we could take the billions spent on the war on drug supply the prices would fall to where it would be more economical in many places to grow corn and crop substitution programs could be encouraged. the money saved could be used to treat the addicts and to whittle down the demand. the war on drug supply will not work.

No one has really addressed the issue that I think most people fear if drugs were decriminalized. Our social and economic paradigm in this country will shift from the ‘have and have-nots’ in regards to income or wealth, to ‘user or non-user’. Think about it… just because drugs may become decriminalized that dosen’t mean you can now get high and still drive a passenger bus or a frieght train. There will still be alot of laws. But then you will have the freedom of choice, and with that you will have to decide between drug use or being on the low end of society. Drug users will still not be able to get many jobs, live in nice areas, and be rejected in some fashion or another.
I fully belive that drug related violent crime will decrease. I believe a great number of problems could be solved. I don’t believe usage will decrease, at least not right away. I think it may actually increase at first until young people see the way that ‘users’ are treated by ‘non-users’ and won’t want to be like that.
What will all the people do who have jobs in law-enforcement in regards to drugs? What about all the extra prision gaurds? And what about the average joe or even the above above-average joe who still steals a bong hit on the weekends on a line of blow at the club on the sneak? Do these people want to be seen at 7-11 picking up a ‘heavy-bag’, even if it is ‘just a taste’ and then be labeled a ‘user’?
Well folks… I think its a test of morality and social responsibility that needs to be taken by this country. I’d rather see people high and happy than dead from drug violence. I’d rather see people discriminated against as ‘users’ because of thier own CHOICE to use drugs, rather than by the color of thier skin or language they speak. It’s Darwinian law folks, the strong will survive.

Posted by Luke | Report as abusive

An opinion piece that features “wrongheaded” starts out injured.
“Wrongheaded” exists only in the mind of its speaker, and has no value at all.
Lose it.

Legaliziing drugs will not make them safe. Elvis died from legal drugs.
No government will make drugs available to young folk. So if you take the adult market from criminals, they will only have kids to sell to.
There are no easy answers, are there?
Our world is both financially bankrupt and morally bankrupt. There comes a time when a garment is beyond fixing with another patch.
Graham Mewburn

Posted by Graham Mewburn | Report as abusive

Obviously the War on Drugs has been incredibly beneficial to its backers. Otherwise why is it going on forever? That’s very Orwellian. Either it provides a rich revenue stream (from tax payers) or it’s just another way to keep special interests in control.

Humans are more efficient than we give them credit for. If it really was a failure, its backers would have stopped long ago and turned to some other scheme.

Posted by Radio | Report as abusive