[cato institute] The War on Drugs Is Lost

Russia’s War on Drugs is identical to its American and British counterparts: it’s a failure. As last week’s BBC-TV News report vividly documented, Russia’s in the grip of a heroin epidemic. Russia has 2.5m heroin addicts and 30,000 of them will die this year.

Why is the War on Drugs lost? It reflects our failure to learn from history. Drug prohibition has all the characteristics of other well-intentioned, yet counterproductive, government programmes. Specifically, the drug war causes crime; it corrupts the police; it violates civil liberties; it throws good money after bad; and it weakens – even destroys – families, neighbourhoods, and communities.

Governments have seldom given serious thought to drug policy, preferring instead to follow whatever variation on failure is being proposed during the latest crisis. Such conventional thinking has only served to empower organised crime, corrupt government, hinder health care, and feed into an ever-growing law enforcement and penal industry. In sum, common sense and experience have been ignored, folly has been repeated, and the War on Drugs has become a war on reason, itself.

All of the evidence – academic, scientific, and anecdotal – confirms that the problems Russians associate with illegal drug use are caused directly or indirectly not by drug use, itself, but by drug prohibition. It’s only by separating drug use from drug prohibition – something that prohibitionists carefully don't do – that one is able to appreciate that the harmful side effects of prohibition overwhelm the benefits of (alleged) lower drug consumption. [...]