Just about every major study of drug policy over the last 100+ years has concluded that prohibition is bad public policy. Many conclude that the War on Drugs does more harm than good. Alternatives to criminalization seem to work better. Portugal's experiment with decriminalization has been a smashing success.
Most of the mainstream sources beginning to question the War on Drugs call it a "failure." You see that term a lot these days. "We tried to stop the scourge of illegal drugs, we gave it our honest best, but we conclude that it's not working."
The War on Drugs is a total failure, right?
It's a failed policy, amiright?
Errr...a failure for whom?
The War on Drugs is just one branch on the rotten tree.
To understand why the drug war continues we have to unpack all the ways in which it benefits the core constituents of government: private corporations and the military-industrial complex. Policies that are "failures" are those that fail to enrich these core constituents. If the drug war were a failure it would not have continued for 70 years.
Someone is benefiting. A LOT. Someone always makes out like a bandit from "failed" policies. In this case, the beneficiaries are raking in hundreds of billions of dollars. Read that number again: Hundreds. Of billions.
Does that sound like a failure to you?
Let's take a look at a few of the beneficiaries. But before we do, let's take a small detour to address another core component to this issue: "Conspiracy Theory."
I've put it in quotes because it's another of those terms (like "terrorist") that no longer has any meaning. "Conspiracy theorist" has become a broad brush that the mainstream uses against anyone who speaks out against systems of unjust power. The mainstream media, which has been more and more exposed as the water carriers for power, has deliberately muddied the waters by throwing the term "conspiracy theorist" over everyone from UFO believers to "9/11 Truthers" (another term used to instantly shut down anyone who questions any aspect of the official narrative) to JFK assassination buffs.*
The short take from all of this is that when I suggest that the U.S. government mainly serves the interests of a powerful elite, and only tangentially serves the interests of We the People, a certain subset of readers will reflexively think, "Oh, a Conspiracy Theorist!" and give themselves permission to stop thinking any further. In their minds, the notion that the most wealthy and powerful factions exert oligarchic control over public policy can only mean a tiny number of (Jewish bankers? Ex-Nazis? Lizard People?) meet in a room and decide how they want to run the world. That idea seems ridiculous because it is. But it's not the only way that power exerts itself.
In my previous post I suggested that the Internet has brought true free speech to all of us for the first time in history. This seems like a bold claim to people who still read the New York Times and listen to the Evening News. But young people who have grown up on the Internet generally avoid mainstream news sources because the mainstream's pro-corporate & pro-government bias doesn't jibe with the lived reality they see every day online.
The journalist Glenn Greenwald summed up the change quite nicely. He said that it used to be the case that only the most extreme outsiders -- John Birchers and the like -- would try to claim that a tiny cabal of powerful entities within the military industrial complex really controlled the government. To do so was, in Greenwald's words, "a self-marginalizing act." But, he continued, this is no longer the case. Today it seems so self-evident that to deny it seems the more radical position.
The U.S. is not a democracy, it's an oligarchy. This isn't my opinion, it's the conclusion of academic social scientists who study the issue. For instance, a widely-reported (outside the U.S.) study from Princeton and Northwestern examined over 1800 policy outcomes from 1981 to 2002 and concluded that the popular will had virtually no impact on the outcomes while the desires of the economic and business elites had a large impact. Tufts Political Scientist (and former legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) Michael J. Glennon expressed a related sentiment when he said, "Vote all you want. The secret government won't change."
Neither of these academics would consider themselves "conspiracy" theorists; in fact, the article on Glennon specifically says he's not. But they both conclude that the government is essentially run by an entrenched, bottom-up bureaucracy that is not answerable even to the President and Congress. And regular Americans don't really have much say in how the government is run, period.
So you really don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to conclude that the "shadow" government, or the insider government, acts according to dictates that are not set by the citizenry. In many cases, the agenda is not even determined by the public officials we elect to ostensibly represent us. So then the question becomes: who does set the agenda? Who decides what policies get executed?
At this point, the answer is pretty clear. Those estimated 10,000 lobbyists on Capital Hill are not there on behalf of the American people (well, a few of them are). That $65 million spent by the pharmaceutical industry, $40 million from the insurance industry, $38 from electrical utilities...these are investments. This is the kind of money that bends policy in their direction.
If it didn't work, they wouldn't invest.
Take War Profiteers (aka: the Defense Industry): Long before 9/11 and the "War on Terror," the drug war was used as an excuse to militarize the border, provide ever-increasing military equipment and training to local police, and even to justify military actions in Columbia, Panama and elsewhere.
In an upcoming post I will drill down in more detail all the ways in which the War on Drugs is something much worse than a failure, including a number of angles -- free speech, mental health, even climate change, for chrissakes -- not often associated with this particular policy. For the moment, understand that the science is clear and unambiguous: the drug war is ineffectual at controlling the availability of drugs, and actually increases the harm caused by drugs. The war on drugs has the same relationship to illicit drug producers and drug users as alcohol prohibition had to alcohol producers and consumers. It increases the profit margin for drug dealers exponentially. This creates violent and wealthy criminal networks, which in turn corrupt police and institutions and commit literal genocide (60-120,000 murdered in Mexico alone in the last decade). The drug war makes drug use more dangerous for individuals, including children, while also making treatment a more difficult and risky option.
At the same time, the drug war helps lay the foundations of a totalitarian police and prison state. With massive profits for the tiny number of owners at the top.
* Lest you forget: Despite smears against "conspiracy theorists" both before and after, the 1976 U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that JFK was killed by a "probable conspiracy." In other words, our own government said publicly that Oswald most likely did NOT act alone.