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June 17, 1971 was marked by one prominent event: that was the day when President Nixon declared that drugs are “public enemy number one in the United States” (Frontline). More than 40 years after this utterance and more than $1 trillion of public money spent on struggle with drugs, it is possible to say that war on drugs is the longest-running, most expensive and least effective war effort by the American government (Huffington Post). That obviously leads to the question how much does American citizens waste on this war every year and is it really necessary to finance a forlorn hope?
Another important question is can it be considered ethical for the government to decide what is legal or illegal for a citizen to put into his body. It is a war against a concept, not a physical enemy and from this point of view is resembles a fight with a windmill. Massive amount of resources pumped into this abyss would greatly benefit any other direction of social development. Failure of this war can be shown in pallid statistics: In 2013, 8.1 million persons aged 12 or older used marijuana on 20 or more days in the past month, which was an increase from the 5.1 million daily or almost daily past month users in 2005 to 2007 (2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health). And these are numbers that consider only marijuana, let alone any other type of drugs – literally, one may say that the war on drugs is virtually the war against millions of American citizens.
According to the National Drug Control Policy, the federal American government spent $15 billion on the war on drugs in 2010. State and local governments add at least another $25 million to that. (https://stopthedrugwar.org/)
There are plenty of sources from where people can get information about actual spending on war on drugs. Journalists of Fox News have made their own investigation and calculation and figured out that in 40 years the US spent $20 billion to fight with the drug gangs in countries of their origin, $33 billion to market prohibition messages to youth. $49 billion went on law enforcements to limit the drug flow through the state borders, $121 billion on arrests of 37 million of nonviolent drug offenders and $450 billion to keep them imprisoned.
It becomes clear that this hugely expensive war with a concept had become a real failure. The example of Prohibition has shown clearly that such approaches won’t work. That is why the only way out in this case can be legalization and control, like governments do with alcohol and tobacco. It is impossible to predict how many illegal substances will be created within a year and how many people would try their first drug for the first time. The only thing we can influence is ourselves. With all those money devoted to the education, prevention and cultural development of the individuals, the war on drugs could end up extremely quickly without need to enlarge the budget every year at an exponential rate.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-48, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014.