Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cut the Deficit: Eliminate Wasteful War on Drugs

I admit that this post is not especially current, except that with President Obama's wildly spirally deficits, which is nearly three times the atrociously high final year deficit under George W. Bush, we need a national conversation on cutting spending.

Unfortunately, it is useless to talk about cutting waste. Everyone wants to do that, but government is notoriously incapable of cutting waste in programs enacted by Congress or otherwise devised by bureaucrats. That is is was so laughable that President Obama promised to fund his health care plans with cuts in fraudulent and wasteful spending. Everyone knows that is mere fantasy.

You can cut wasteful programs altogether, though. It simply takes political courage and a Congress willing to act rationally.

Here is an idea: eliminate the federal war on drugs, including disestablishment of the DEA.

Don't get me wrong. I think addictive recreational drugs are a scourge on society. I have a recovering (20+ years) relative of whom I am very proud. It is tough to get off that stuff and addictive drugs are very bad for you. I have another relative who continues to slip into drug use and can't so far seem to shake it. Drugs have destroyed his life. But, it is for more accurate to say the he has allowed drugs to destroy his life. He made a choice. They both made their choices. In my mind, that is their right has human beings and citizens. Adults should be free to make choices, good and bad, without the nanny state chirping in.

By the way, the war on drugs has not made it any less difficult for the current user to get his drugs, just more expensive. Making drugs illegal has not made them unavailable.

What is the society's cost of artificially expensive, addictive, illegal drugs? More burglaries, robberies, murders, and gang activity. The war on drugs hurts all of us, by exposing us a victims to drug abusers trying to meet the artificially high prices caused by interdiction and domestic enforcement.

Even if the war on drugs were the right thing for the federal government to do, the inderdiction/enforcement strategy is wasteful. In the 1990's the Rand Corporation did a study on the relative costs and effectiveness of anti-drug strategies.

Let's assume our primary goal is to reduce drug use. Here are the results (in 1990's dollars) of the cost to reduce cocaine usage by 1% analyzing different available strategies:

1. Control drugs at the source, eradicating coca leaves, and interfering with the production abroad: $800 million.

2. Interdiction. Stop the drugs from coming in. $360 million.

3. Domestic enforcement. Arrest the users and distributors inside the US. $238 million.

4. Treatment of heavy users through outpatient and residential programs. $34 million.
Doesn't option number 4 make the most sense? If it is a proper role of government to reduce drug usage, the most cost effective strategy is also the least intrusive, and least harmful to the rest of us as potential theft victims. Why do we bother spending the big bucks on interdiction and domestic enforcement, other than to provide government jobs?

The federal government must be involved in the war on drugs if interdiction and domestic enforcement were the answer, because the federal government has constitution authority to control interstate commerce and foreign trade. The federal government should eliminate its spending on the war on drugs entirely, because the most cost effective solution is not a proper function of the federal government anyway. Leave it to the states to create education programs. Or let the states citizens kill themselves. It is none of the federal government's concern at that point.

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