#72 – The War is Over

The Oregon Truce

In  February, and Oregon ballot measure that decriminalized drugs took effect. Adults can no longer be arrested for possession of small amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, oxycodone and other drugs. https://apnews.com/article/oregon-decriminalize-drug-possession-6843f93c3d55212e0ffbdd8b93be9196

Instead, those found in possession would face a $100 fine or a health assessment that could lead to addiction counseling. The addiction recovery centers will be funded by millions of dollars of tax revenue from Oregon’s legalized marijuana industry.  Backers of the ballot measure, which Oregon voters passed by a wide margin in November, hailed it as a revolutionary move for the United States.

Brief History

In 1930, at age 38, Harry Anslinger was appointed the founding commissioner of the Treasury’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The bureau was not set up to target drug users or the “social evils” of drugs, it was instituted to chase untaxed revenue. But after, Prohibition, the 18th Amendment was repealed, out of self-interest and due to the obsolescence of the Department of Prohibition, Anslinger campaigned for a new prohibition against marijuana use. That was the unofficial start of the War on Drugs. In 1972, Richard Nixon formalized and nationalized it.

The Arguments

De-criminalization of drugs will create more violence. It’s the illegal, high risk, high reward environment that attract a unique cliental. People more prone to violence are amongst this demographic. The drug trade, because it is illegal, has no real criminal justice system. Justice is administrated by the violent participants that enforce their own system of justice. This results in violent gang turf wars and cartel rivalries. Cities and communities are torn apart, often times with innocents getting caught in the crossfire.

De-criminalization of substances will enrich the drug cartels. Just as alcohol prohibition gave rise to gangsters in the 1920’s, such as the notorious and deadly Al Capone, the war against drugs has given rise to violent drug cartels, making multi-billionaires out of drug kingpins like El Chapo. Prohibition places a high premium on the commodity due to it being illegal. Cash and power is the reward and violences the price.

In actuality prohibition of substances cost are huge. “The amount of money used to enforce prohibition started at $6.3 million in 1921 and rose to $13.4 million in 1930, almost double the original amount”. A 2015 study estimated that the repeal of Prohibition had a net social benefit of “$432 million per annum in 1934–1937, about 0.33% of gross domestic product.” This was primarily due to the increased consumer and producer surplus, tax revenues, and reduced criminal violence costs.

De-criminalization of substances will increase addiction. Current drug overdose is another issue that is fueled by the fact that the sanctity of the product is always suspect. Illegal drugs are readily available in most areas. Legalizing drugs would provide a higher level of confidence in the ingredients of the drugs being sold. Companies selling drugs could be held liable if they sell tainted drugs that poison their customers, an option not available under the current system.

Portugal took a proactive step to decriminalize drugs in 2000. Prior to 2000, they had the highest percentage of addicts in Europe. According to the AP article, “Portugal’s 2000 decriminalization brought no surge in drug use. Drug deaths fell while the number of people treated for drug addiction in the country rose 20% from 2001 to 2008 then stabilized.” 

Collateral Damage

The War on Drugs tears families apart, it jails people (mostly black men) for using or possessing a chemical that the government deemed illegal. Millions of children have had to grow up with a parent stuck behind bars for non-criminal acts. The Constitution limits the government to protecting citizens against others violating their rights. Government is not to protect us against our own judgment and actions as long as they do not harm others. Incarceration harms individuals, families and communities. 

The Drug War is destructive and it creates criminals. I prefer to call them victims, not criminals. Like every war the innocent are usually the “collateral damage.” This war destroys people’s lives, this war imprisons non-violent people because they choose to use or hold a substance, this war puts a permanent stain on peoples criminal record, this war makes it virtually impossible to join the job market, this war makes it difficult to obtain housing.

“The War is Over?” 

“Today, the first domino of our cruel and inhumane war on drugs has fallen, setting off what we expect to be a cascade of other efforts centering health over criminalization,” said Kassandra Frederique, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which spearheaded the Oregon ballot initiative.


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