The Drug War Does Not Deter Drug Use Or Abuse
Laws and punishment do not deter drug use to any significant degree. Prohibition is a fundamentally flawed strategy. [See: Drug War Failure for a further discussion of the failure to deter the flow of drugs or the dealers who sell them.]
The simplest proof is in the fact that about 62% of our young have used an illegal drug by age 22.
See: 62% Use
"The licit or illicit status of substances has little impact on their use."
-- Canada's House of Commons, Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs, report issued November, 2002
The simplest explanation is that most people are not interested in using most currently illegal drugs regardless of their legal status; for them the law is unnecessary.
The others, the few who care the most, get the drugs anyhow. So many millions violate the law with impunity that the most basic need for effective deterrence - "the certainty of punishment" - is not, and never can be, remotely in place. The number who have ever used an illegal drug now approaches 100 million and our prisons began to overflow when well less than a million or so were incarcerated.
If users are not frightened by the drugs, they will not be frightened by the threat of arrest. The law is ignored. There may a limited impact on casual users, a group which is highly unlikely to let their use develop into dependency in any case.
The failure to deter may also be explained by the fact that we are a society saturated with the use of legal drugs that are equally or more dangerous.
See: Other Drugs
"Messages" may be viewed more as hypocritical propaganda than credible warnings.
In any case, even massive increases in coercion have failed to deter.
"The total punishment levied for drug control purposes has increased massively since 1981, when concern with cocaine became prominent. The number of commitments to state and federal prison has risen over tenfold during the same time period. By 1996, there were over 400,000 people in prison or jail serving time for selling or using drugs; the comparable figure for 1980 was about 31,000. Arrests for simple marijuana possession have doubled in the last five years."
- "Drug War Heresies" by Peter Reuter and Robert MacCoun of RAND's Drug Policy Research Center
Many top officials have consistently told us that, "We cannot arrest our way out of the problem." Unfortunately, action has not matched the rhetoric, even though official studies and expert research repeatedly confirm this conclusion. We are wasting an enormous amount of time and money on prisons.
"In summary, existing research seems to indicate that there is little apparent relationship between severity of sanctions prescribed for drug use and prevalence or frequency of use.
"Perceived legal risk explains very little in the variance of individual drug use."
- from The White House [ONDCP] 2001 report from the National Research Council, "Informing America's Policy on Illegal Drugs: What We Don't Know Keeps Hurting Us."
"In the period from 1991 to 1997 -- when arrests for minor drug offenses increased by 70 percent -- there was no decline in drug use statistics."
-- Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, 2002 (government-funded institute)
"Drug epidemics come and go, [not due to] legal institutions [but] the natural ebb and flow of each drug era. Drug users and sellers regulate their own affairs "
- from researchers Jeffrey Fagan of Rutgers and Wm. Spelman of the University of Texas, New York Times 2/11/94
"We find that the severity of penalties plays little or no role in controlling whether or not people prone to using drugs actually use them. This disregard for the law is truly remarkable."
-- Dr. Michael S. Gazzaniga, interviewed by National Review, 7-10-95
"Alternate solutions need to be found in order to address drug use - the criminal process does little to reduce the availability of drugs or to discourage their use."
- report of the Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service, in The Australian, 6-9-97