Who’s Winning the War on Drugs?

The NY Times editorial entitled Not Winning the War on Drugs says: “Over all, drug abuse must be seen more as a public health concern and not primarily a law enforcement problem. Until demand is curbed at home, there is no chance of winning the war on drugs.” The “War on Drugs” began in June of 1971, when President Nixon identified drug abuse as “public enemy No. 1.” Two years later, in July of 1973, he created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to coordinate the efforts of all other agencies. Now, 35 years later, a new World Health Organization (WHO) survey of 17 countries reports that, despite American punitive drug policies, the United States has the highest levels of illegal cocaine and cannabis use. The countries surveyed were:

1. Colombia
2. Mexico
3. United States
4. Belgium
5. France
6. Germany
7. Italy
8. Netherlands
9. Spain
10. Ukraine
11. Israel
12. Lebanon
13. Nigeria
14. South Africa
15. Japan
16. People’s Republic of China
17. New Zealand

The survey concluded that, in general, the US had the highest levels of lifetime use of all drugs. Cannabis use in the US was measured at 42% of the population, far higher than in any other country except New Zealand also with 42%. The US was also an outlier in cocaine use at 16% of the population compared to 4% or lower in other countries for lifetime use of cocaine. Lifetime tobacco use was most common in the US at 74%. Lifetime use of alcohol in the US was measured at 91.6%, the sixth highest in the nations surveyed.

Comparing the statistics between the US and the Netherlands, with drug policies more liberal than in the United States, 19.8% of survey respondents in the Netherlands reported that they had used marijuana at least once in their lives. In the United States, where we arrest more than 800,000 people every year for marijuana, lifetime marijuana use is at 42.4%, according to the survey. The concluding remarks of the survey say: “Drug use is related to income, but does not appear to be simply related to drug policy, since countries with more stringent policies towards illegal drug use did not have lower levels of such drug use than countries with more liberal policies.”

See the following in SARA, the library catalog: Federal Narcotics Laws and the War on Drugs: Money Down a Rat Hole by Thomas C. Rowe, Call No. KF3890 .R69 2006 and How Goes the “War On Drugs”?: an Assessment of U.S. Drug Programs and Policy an electronic resource by Jonathan P. Caulkins.