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Why the War on Drugs doesn’t work

President Nixon’s so-called “War on Drugs” was touted, before he was forced to resign from office over the Watergate scandal, as a way to keep people from making, selling or using drugs. It essentially just meant making the laws strict and stepping up enforcement efforts for drug offenses.

It has not worked. Some have called it a “continued failure.” Although drug arrests are very common and they’re a big reason why the prisons are so full, they have not stopped drug use at all.

Why doesn’t the “war” work? It never has. It’s the same as Prohibition, which is when alcohol was very briefly outlawed in the United States. It was also a massive failure. People used alcohol anyway, at about 70% of the rate they used it at when it was legal. Moreover, you had public health concerns, a lack of respect for the government and an increase in crime. It was quickly noted that prohibiting the use of alcohol was certainly not effective or worth the massive cost, and it was overturned.

The fight against drug use has done the same thing. People still use, regardless of legality. In an unregulated market, that just means they’re exposed to more risk. Crime increases because the government has made things that people are still going to do illegal.

In some ways, this was the argument for legalizing recreational marijuana. Doing so allowed it to be distributed in a controlled, safe and regulated fashion. It reduced crime and kept people out of jail on simple marijuana charges.

Prohibition and marijuana reform have both shown the issues with the War on Drugs, and yet it continues. If you get arrested, you need to know what options you have.