Law in Contemporary Society

The Creed of the War on Drugs.

-- By JohnAlbanese - 25 Feb 2010 - 17 May 2010


The War on Drugs is a failure. Read the first edition of this essay for a decent explanation for how it has failed. Yet the only real changes that have occurred are stricter penalties and stronger enforcement. This essay seeks to explain why change has been difficult to accomplish and offers some suggestions on how reformers should frame their arguments.

The Creed of the War on Drugs

The War on Drugs is a winning political issue. It appeals to one of the baser of human desires: the fight of good against evil. The creed of the drug warriors is that drugs are bad, therefore prohibit drug use and punish the peddlers and the junkies. Drug prohibition also appeals to another instinctual emotion, protecting one's children. Strict drug enforcement ensures that the children of this nation are sheltered from the scourge of drugs. Combining these two emotions creates a nearly impenetrable Arnoldian creed driven by fear and righteousness that is able to bat away the thinking man's arguments with no trouble.

Any argument that suggests a major strategic change in policy is easily countered with a desire for stronger enforcement and harsher penalties. Any politician that argues that the country should liberalize its drug policies is regarded as soft on crime, as unwilling to do what it takes to win the war, and weak in the face of evil. This good and evil mindset leads to a vicious, escalating cycle. Increases in law enforcement lead to more sophisticated criminal enterprises, which lead to stronger law enforcement measures, which lead to larger criminal organizations and so on. To say that the policies have failed is to invite the refrain that prevents this country from pulling out of any war: admitting failure dishonors all the efforts of people that have fought the war. For example, here is former drug czar,John Walters:

"To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven't made any difference is ridiculous. It destroys everything we've done. It's saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It's saying all these people's work is misguided."

The Failure of the Rational Argument

The vast majority of arguments against the current policies are arguments that appeal to the thinking man. The criticisms state the policies are ineffective, too expensive, too narrow, and too destructive. But these criticisms never gain much political traction. Between the effectiveness of the War on Drugs as a creed, and the ease with which money can be spent with impunity on the war, few politicians will ever state the obvious truth that what is being done is not working. The failure of these arguments, like many arguments designed towards the thinking man, is that they attack the results of the creed and not the creed itself. In order to actually change the way this country deals with drugs, the creed that drugs, drug users, and drug sellers are evil has to be challenged. Only once the creed has been chipped away can real change begin to take place.

Attacking the Creed

Lessons can be learned from the marijuana movement. By framing marijuana usage as a medicinal rather than a recreational activity, the creed that the drug itself is evil does not have the strength that it used to. Only once the drug is not regarded as a moral wrong can the financial argument even begin to have traction. The pro-pot people are making a mistake if they stick to a purely economic argument, however. They need to continue to attack the creed and not cede the moral ground to the other side. Financial arguments alone will not withstand moralistic attacks from the other side of the debate.

This attack on the creed can work for harder drugs like heroin and cocaine, even though it may be more difficult. Most illicit drugs were originally prescribed medicinally, and their medicinal value should be emphasized by those seeking reform. The point is not to advocate that doctors prescribe these drugs to patients. The point is to show that these drugs are not inherently evil and therefore, those that use them should not incur criminal punishment.

Another aspect of the creed that should be attacked is the notion that drug users are bad people. Many people are scared of drug users because they are associated with violence and crime. Drug policies will change once the drug user is made into into an empathetic figure. The marijuana movement once again is instructive; drug users should be talked about as people dealing with pain rather than people dealing with the disease of drug addiction. The object of this type of argument is to change the image of drug users from selfish, weak-minded hedonists to people that are seeking relief from physical and mental pain. If the reason people use drugs is framed as not a moral failure, but as a coping mechanism for dealing with pain, then the creed of the evil drug user loses its strength.

Lastly, publicize the pernicious effects of the drug war in a way to make people more afraid of the negative effects of drug prohibition rather than drug use. A good example is this video of a SWAT team storming a suburban house in the middle of the night in order to serve a warrant. During the raid, they find a small amount of pot and shoot the family dogs in front of a child. The video aptly demonstrates the absurd consequences of the drug war where the children in the house are more in more danger from the police officers enforcing the prohibition rather than the drugs or the drug users.


The War on Drugs is not designed to be the best way to control drug use; it is designed to be a politically useful policy that satisfies some primal human desires. Successful reform will require the breakdown of the creed that drives the policies, which necessitates attacking the creed directly rather than attacking the results of the policies.
I moved the discussion here. -- JohnAlbanese - 02 Mar 2010


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r15 - 13 Jan 2012 - 23:14:17 - IanSullivan
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