With the squeeze of the sequester increasingly palpable across the country and the battle over next year’s budget unfolding on Capitol Hill, there is no better time for a sober, bipartisan and data-driven conversation about our spending priorities. One area where dismal return on investment dictates fundamental change is the “war on drugs.” By slashing anti-drug programs we know are not working, we can save hundreds of billions, while also reducing the collateral human costs of these programs at home and abroad.
Based loosely on market theory, U.S. drug policy has two pillars: supply reduction and demand reduction. The thinking goes that we can reduce drug abuse by attacking supply chains, thus making it harder and more expensive to procure illegal drugs, while also reducing demand by educating Americans about the risks and treating addiction. Supply reduction has always received the lion’s share of resources.
In the 1980s, as part of our burgeoning effort to curtail the inflow of drugs, the U.S. began aggressively attacking coca and opium traffickers in the Andes. Based on the Government Accountability Office’s assessment, the investment of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars and significant human resources helped incapacitate several drug kingpins. But, as supply chains organically shifted, our efforts failed to sustainably reduce the flow or increase street prices of Andean cocaine or heroin.