All of us in law enforcement and the criminal justice system are motivated by the goal of protecting public safety. We risk our lives to keep communities safe and secure, bringing to justice those who violate criminal laws. The primary question we should ask ourselves when evaluating any policy is whether it works to keep society safe. Secondary factors include questions of economic efficiency, fairness to groups with historically less money or power, and whether we are allowing people to reach their full potential after rehabilitation.
The war on drugs unequivocally fails every one of these tests. We have bravely fought the war on drugs for more than 40 years – arresting, prosecuting, and imprisoning at ever-increasing levels. We have spent well over a trillion dollars and made more than 39 million arrests of nonviolent drug users.
Ask yourself this simple question: Has it worked? As most of us can answer from experience: No. The war on drugs has never worked. Today, drugs are cheaper, more potent, and easier to get than they were in 1970 when the war on drugs began. On federal surveys, teenagers consistently report that it’s easier to buy marijuana than alcohol, which is legal and age-regulated. And beyond its failure, the war on drugs has had unintended but devastatingly violent consequences. As with alcohol prohibition, drugs are under the control of bloodthirsty cartels fighting over untaxed profits and killing police and innocent civilians in their crossfire.
Many of us have spent our entire careers risking our lives for the sake of the drug war. We have seen colleagues lose their lives in this struggle. We enforced the drug laws by arresting users and dealers alike. Though we know that most drug users aren’t violent – usually they just want to be left alone – the illegal drug trade is extraordinarily violent. Whether we’re working undercover or clearing dealers from street corners or responding to gang shootings, we put ourselves in harm’s way because we have been taught that damaging the drug trade will win this war and reduce its associated evils.
But observation and long experience have taught us that this is an unwinnable war. Prohibition is not a deterrent; never has been; never will be. Every time we put a drug kingpin away, a line of people are waiting to take his place. The illicit drug market is far too lucrative to be “arrested” away. It’s time to end this “war” and try another approach.
We remember a time when kids would run toward the police car because they thought the police would help. We are proud of our profession and want to put a stop to the widespread perception that police are an “occupying army” who only care about drug busts in minority neighborhoods. We need to spend our time and resources arresting criminals who truly threaten public safety, such as murderers, rapists, and drunk drivers, instead of chasing after nonviolent drug offenders.