The War on Drugs has been raging in full force for the past 50 years. It’s stated aim is to remove illicit drugs from society and to achieve this the focus has been to attack supply. In doing so, law enforcement has ignored the stunningly obvious – where there is demand, supply will find a way. And the demand for illicit drugs is as great as it ever was.
In Australia, the cost of drug law enforcement was estimated at over $1 billion per year back in 2010. Considering this has been going on for decades, it’s clear the cost is astronomical, notwithstanding the unintended consequence of the illegal commodities market and its associated negative impacts.
If you were born in the 1970s or later, you’ve been completely immersed in a culture of drug prohibition, and you may be forgiven for thinking that the use of mind-altering substances has always been taboo. But there is archaeological evidence of drug use as far back as 10,000 years. In Europe, during the nineteenth century, opium, morphine and cocaine were freely available. The original recipe for Coca-Cola contained 9 milligrams of cocaine per glass.
The earliest restrictions on drugs in Australia were focused on health and safety concerns. But post-World War Two, Australia looked increasingly to the US when formulating drug policies and moved away from safety concerns, towards a focus on law enforcement. Like the US, Australia has wasted billions in getting ‘tough’ on drugs – and where has it got us?
Precisely nowhere. More people than ever are using illicit substances – the market in Australia is estimated to be worth $6.7 billion per year. The War on Drugs has failed to limit both supply and demand, while at the same time filling our prisons with ‘perpetrators’ of victimless crimes.
The urge to remove drugs from society is based on the behaviours of a minority of users – around 10 per cent – whose drug use negatively impacts others. It ignores the fact that the majority of drug users, including drinkers, continue to function well in society.
In the West, there is a resurgence of interest in psychedelics – evidenced in part by the popularity of South American ayahuasca retreats. New studies have shown the benefits of these substances, as well as MDMA, in treating addiction, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Perhaps it’s an indication that we are missing something in our increasingly secularised lives – that we crave an experience of the spiritual.
The authoritarian attempt to crush supply and dampen demand is more aptly described by Graham Hancock as a “War on Consciousness”. Just as we all enjoy a right to life, we also as autonomous, sentient beings ought to be free to experiment with our own psychological experience.
The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Trials of decriminalisation and legalisation around the world are proving that outcomes for addicts and society in general are better when recreational drug use is legal.
Using coercive means to shape the world into a better place isn’t the answer. Sure, we’d be better off without addiction and all its associated negative impacts – we’d also be better off without tsunamis or cancer – but life is imperfect. As with all offensive wars, the War of Drugs hasn’t achieved its stated aims, and there’s strong evidence it’s made things worse. It’s time we called a cease-fire.
Nicola Wright is a freelance author and libertarian whose writing can be found on Medium.