A new FBI report released Monday is brimming with startling figures about the four-decades-old War on Drugs. Shockingly, in the United States, there is a drug arrest every 19 seconds, making for a total of 1.6 million drug arrests in 2010 alone.
The FBI report also includes data which show that 81.9% of all drug-related arrests in 2010 were for simple possession, not drug dealing, and 45.8% of all drug-related arrests were for possession of marijuana. This indicates that the vast majority of police work and resources in the War on Drugs are being focused on users of illegal drugs, not the people who sell them. With nearly half of all drug-related arrests resulting from possession of marijuana, a drug that many Americans believe should be legal, the FBI’s report calls into question just how effective and efficient the federal government has been in waging its war on drugs.
Neill Franklin, the retired Baltimore narcotics cop who now leads Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), argued that the FBI’s most recent figures are evidence that the War on Drugs has failed and should come to an end:
“Since the declaration of the ‘war on drugs’ 40 years ago we’ve arrested tens of millions of people in an effort to reduce drug use. The fact that cops had to spend time arresting another 1.6 million of our fellow citizens last year shows that it simply hasn’t worked. In the current economy we simply cannot afford to keep arresting three people every minute in the failed ‘war on drugs.’”
But can we put a price on safety? Many Americans oppose ending drug prohibition because they don’t want to make our streets less safe. Franklin claims that ending the War on Drugs would actually make our streets more safe:
“If we legalized and taxed drugs, we could not only create new revenue in addition to the money we’d save from ending the cruel policy of arresting users, but we’d make society safer by bankrupting the cartels and gangs who control the currently illegal marketplace.”
In fact, the Department of Justice released another report last month saying that Mexican drug cartels are currently active in more than 1,000 U.S. cities, a 400% increase over the 230 U.S. cities that the illegal drug cartel operated in just two years ago! With the War on Drugs in full swing over that period, it’s hard to imagine that drug prohibition is actually making America more safe. In fact, it could be making us less safe.
Instead of legitimate, law-abiding growers, distributors, and retailers producing and selling marijuana just like alcohol is produced and distributed, the War on Drugs has driven the market underground where violent criminal elements are reaping the monopolistic profits of an industry with no legal competitors. As many conservatives say about guns: if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns. Likewise, if you outlaw the sale of marijuana, it would seem that only outlaws will sell marijuana.
Over one million arrests in a single year for a non-violent crime, the mere possession of a scheduled substance: with government at every level in fiscal collapse, prisons everywhere critically overcrowded– especially in California, and a criminal drug cartel that is growing only more bold, more active, and more violent with each passing year, it is incumbent upon every policymaker and every voter to stop and reconsider the merits and hazards of the War on Drugs. Those in favor of the status quo have an obligation to answer one question clearly and without equivocation: How many more arrests will it take to win the War on Drugs?