Instead of throwing drug offenders in jail and hoping for the best, why not try to treat them? Treatment is ten times more cost-effective than law enforcement. It costs fifteen times less to treat a person than it costs to put them in jail (Rydell 16). Tax dollars that are being spent on an obsolete program (the present “War on Drugs”) could be spent on treatment, a proven method of decreasing the use and sale of illicit drugs. The American legal system should draft a bill in Congress that gives treatment to drug offenders instead of throwing them in jail. Such a bill would be advantageous to American society as a whole, and benefits would arise from an economic and civil rights standpoint as soon as the bill was signed into law. Such programs have already shown nothing but positive results in The Netherlands and Switzerland, and I believe that with the right direction America can catch up with the rest of the world.
The first step in creating a functional program to fight the Drug War is to face a few hard facts. A study was conducted to investigate police corruption inside drug cases in New York City. This study showed that police corruption, brutality, and violence were present in every high crime precinct that had a high concentration of minority populations (Cole 23). It found very disturbing cases of corruption and brutality, including cases of police stealing from drug dealers, engaging in unlawful searches and seizures, and lying to justify unlawful searches and arrests in areas with large minority populations (Cole 24). After seeing this information, one might come to the conclusion that most drug offenders are in fact minorities. This is far from the truth. Minority groups are victims of our inadequate system. Not only are most drug offenders white, but five times as many whites use drugs as blacks (hrw.org). Since most of the offenders are white, an intelligent person might come to the conclusion that most people put in jail for drug offenses are also white.
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This is also far from the truth. Blacks make up the great majority of drug offenders sent to prison (hrw.org). It is not a sensible solution to send more white drug offenders to jail. Rather, reducing the use of prison for lower-level drug offenses and increasing the use of treatment would be an effective way to deal with the majority of our country’s drug problem. Treatment, a known method of deterring drug crime, should be the method used to deal with these offenders. As of now, our system of making all drugs (with the exception of tobacco and alcohol) completely illegal is drastically harming our economy. According to the United Nations, a kilogram of cocaine bought in Colombia for $950 can be sold in the United States for $25,000 (Global). After seeing this information, one might ask why America is not simply stopping these drugs from coming into the country. The fact of the matter is that our own system is creating a black market for illicit drugs. Profits for illegal drugs are so inflated that three-quarters of all drug shipments would have to be intercepted to seriously reduce the profitability of the drug trade between America and other countries (Global).
It is estimated that Colombian narcotics cartels spend $100 million on bribes to Colombian officials each year so that they can smuggle drugs into America without any interference (TED). The fact that all drugs fall under the same label of being completely illegal makes them very valuable in America, but not very valuable in countries where there are few or no repercussions for drug possession. This huge value put on drugs increases violence and makes drug dealing more sought after than finding a regular job for hundreds of people. Drug sales in poor neighborhoods are a part of a growing informal economy (Hagedhorn 3). This economy is rapidly expanding and organizing because of the loss of good jobs to lower class people. Drug dealing is usually carried out by lower-class men and women with little education and few skills. Since jobs are not created for these people in either the public or the private sector, they create jobs for themselves. As of now, the way the government deals with these people is sending them to jail. When drug dealers get out of jail, the system automatically assumes they have been treated appropriately and changed their ways.
Sadly, this is not the case. Inmates are even less likely to find a job after serving a sentence. Since nothing changes for them, most are doomed to unemployment for life and are likely to go back to prison as repeat offenders (World Geopolitics 133). It costs over $8.6 billion per year to keep drug law violators behind bars (World Geopolitics 133). This money could be spent to feed the children that are starving in America, or to fund the rapidly decreasing quality of public schools. Research clearly shows that putting drug offenders behind bars is not an effective deterrent to crime, but the government still spends billions of tax dollars on a program that is obviously not working. In The Netherlands and Switzerland, there is a policy that separates the market for illicit drugs. “Soft drugs,” such as marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol, are sold legally while “hard drugs”, such as cocaine and heroin, remain illegal. Free treatment is given to anyone who wants to participate, and attendance is mandatory for drug offenders. The use of treatment instead of jail time decreased welfare use by 10.7% and increased the employment rate by 18.7% after only one year (Sheldon 665).
Since this policy was enacted, the number of addicts in The Netherlands has been a stable 25,000 people, and the percentage of people who have used “hard drugs” in The Netherlands is five times lower than the percentage in America (Netherlands 6). Marijuana use among schoolchildren in The Netherlands has fallen for the first time in years, even though it is now completely legal (Sheldon 655). It is obvious that the current system of retaliation against drug use is not working. Instead of using an obsolete system that has proven inadequate, Congress should draft a bill that treats people before they develop drug problems that will be further augmented by the current American system. Benefits would arise from an economic and civil rights standpoint, and people with serious drug problems could receive the help they needed. Similar programs have proven to be successful in Switzerland and The Netherlands, which further shows that a lesson can be learned from the rest of the world. With the right direction, America can win the War on Drugs.
- Substance Abuse and Mental health Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services, Summary of Findings from the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (Washington DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, 2001), p.130-160
- United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Global Illicit Drug Trends 2000 (New York, NY: UNDCP, 2000),p.48,51,167
- Trade and Environment Database, TED Case Studies: Columbia Coca Trade (Washington DC: American University, 1997),p.4
- Hagedorn, John M. The Business of Drug Dealing in Milwaukee (Milwaukee, WI: Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, 1998),p.3
- Observatoire Geopolitique des Drogues, The World Geopolitics of Drugs 1998/1999 (Paris, France: OGD, April 2000),p.133
- Rydell, C.P., Controlling Cocaine (Santa Monica, CA: Drug Policy Research Center, RAND Corporation, 1994),p.16
- Human Rights Watch, Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs (Washington, DC: Human Rights Watch, 2000), from the website http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/drugs/war/key-facts.htm
- Cole, David, No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System (New York: The New Press, 1999),p.23-24
- Netherlands Ministry of Justice, Fact Sheet: Dutch Drugs Policy, (Utrecht: Trimbos Institute, Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction, 1999), from the Netherlands Justice Ministry website at http://www.minjust.nl:8080/a_beleid/fact/cfact7.htm
- Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport, Drug Policy in the Netherlands: Progress Report September 1997-September 1999, (The Hague: Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport, November 1999), p.6
- Sheldon, Tony, Cannabis use falls among Dutch youth. British Medical Journal (London, England: September 16, 2000), volume 321, p.655.