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Global Drug War Has Resulted in Cheaper and Higher-Quality Illegal Drugs: Dealers, Addicts Presumably Appreciative

The latest research on the War on Drugs concludes that the billions spent on drug control is lowering the street value of illegal drugs and increasing quality. So, er, what exactly is the point of it?

In August, President Obama's drug czar Gil Kerlikowske told the Washington Post that the Administration is committed to increasing spending on addiction treatment but doesn't support decriminalization of illegal drugs, despite mounting evidence that the government's 40-year effort has been a dismal failure.

The latest is research funded by Open Society Foundations through the Vancouver-based International Centre for Science in Drug Policy Study published in BMJ Open that concluded that the billions spent on drug control – more of it spent on domestic law enforcement than on treatment and prevention combined – are lowering street value and increasing quality, i.e., not controlling drugs in any way shape or form.

From the author's summary: “In the USA, the average inflation-adjusted and purity-adjusted prices of heroin, cocaine and cannabis decreased by 81%, 80% and 86%, respectively, between 1990 and 2007, whereas average purity increased by 60%, 11% and 161%, respectively.”

I guess I don't know enough hippies to have caught wind of this 161 percent boost in the quality of kind bud worldwide, but Jesus. In the conclusion of the international study of seven surveillance systems, the authors wrote, “Longitudinal data from government surveillance systems demonstrate that during the past two decades there has been a general pattern of increased illegal drug supply as defined through lower price and higher purity of heroin, cocaine and cannabis.

During the same period, patterns of drug seizures either increased or remained stable, although the trends detected in some of these indicators did not reach statistical significance. As such, we conclude, consistent with previous studies, that the global supply of illicit drugs has likely not been reduced in the previous two decades. In particular, the data presented in this study suggest that the supply of opiates and cannabis, in particular, have increased.”

"The thing is that drug markets aren't static, and the evidence suggests that -- due to the huge money to be made as a result of prohibition -- production markets have expanded over time, resulting in a general trend of increased drug production, increasing drug potency and decreasing drug prices," says study co-author Evan Wood, MD, PhD, director of the Urban Health Research Initiative and a professor at the University of British Columbia. "There are of course subtle exceptions, but that's the overall trend."

A 2010 report by The Cato Institute concluded that the U.S. government would save roughly $41.3 billion annually if drug prohibition ended, around $8.7 billion from the legalization of marijuana alone and $32.6 billion from decriminalizing other drugs. (See more craziness here). Some estimate global expenditures at over $100 billion. But billions, schmillions, why should we save money when incarcerating pot growers for decades is so productive?

The human cost has been just as hideous. Much has been said about the idiocy of drug offenders rotting in prison because of the government's war on drugs, but less is said about the often appalling results of the police using petty drug offenders as confidential informants in their investigations. It's time we heeded the researchers of this and countless other studies that have called for a reframing of the drug problem as a public health issue instead of a criminal justice one. Amidst the grumbling since the shutdown, many are saying it's a good time to reevaluate which government programs we need and which we should ditch. The useless War on Drugs should be first on the list.