Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 96.7 FM . The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
OPINION – It’s been nearly 40 years since President Nixon declared war on illicit drugs in the U.S. So what does America have to show for the drug war? Nothing that, it turns out, people who consider themselves residents of the freest nation on earth would be willing to brag about.
Though we have just 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. boasts the world’s highest incarceration rate. Fully one quarter of the world’s inmates are imprisoned in America. More than half of those inmates are guilty of offenses where they harmed only themselves.
Our police forces have become increasingly militarized to fight the war on drugs. With over 50,000 raids taking place annually, SWAT teams have proliferated, along with a police state mentality that callously excuses the inevitable resulting collateral damage to innocents.
Thanks to asset forfeiture laws, police may confiscate large amounts of cash from motorists they’ve pulled over, without ever having to prove that a crime of any type was committed. A tool that was created to deprive drug lords of their ill-gotten gains is instead being used to deprive innocent people of their property without due process.
But the real question that remains is whether illicit drug use has declined as a result of all this aggressive action by the state. Nope. All the problems associated with drug abuse still exist in abundance with the added factor of less freedom and more intrusive government for everyone, not just those who use drugs.
Still, in spite of the billions of dollars wasted, the millions of lives wrecked and freedoms lost, a clear majority of Americans cling to the notion that these costs are necessary in order to send a message about the evils of drug abuse. Apparently, learning from history isn’t one of our strong points.
During the era of Prohibition in the early 20th century, efforts to eradicate booze from society met with similar results. A market for alcohol still existed and organized crime organizations and government agencies alike worked desperately to protect their respective income streams.
Then, as now, suppliers of the illicit substances could not go to court to resolve disputes, so murderous turf wars over distribution became the norm. Corruption abounded on both sides of the law. Eventually Americans became fed up with the hypocrisy and repealed Prohibition. It took another 40 years for the drug warriors to try to reinvent the wheel.
Thankfully, not every government keeps making the same mistakes.
In 2001, the government of Portugal decriminalized the possession of all drugs. From pot to cocaine to heroin, the criminal penalty was removed. Naturally, this bold move prompted dire predictions of increased drug abuse, higher crime and all manner of societal disintegration.
But the facts of what’s happened in Portugal over the past 10 years tell a very different story. Portuguese government health experts say hard drug use in their country has plummeted over 50 percent. Instead of imprisoning addicts and labeling them criminals, medical experts and psychologists are treating those with drug problems. And it’s working.
It makes sense that more drug users would seek help for their addiction when their treatment doesn’t consist of being locked in cages and subjected to years of prison rape. The cost of treatment is far lower than the cost of incarcerating, feeding and providing round-the-clock security for them in prison. Education and counseling are easier to promote and corruption doesn’t pay nearly as well in an environment that does not criminalize these behaviors.
Unfortunately, generations of Americans have been trained to believe that only the coercive power of the state can effectively address problems like drug abuse. Any solution that involves more, not less, freedom is met with suspicion and fear. We seem to enjoy labeling and punishing others as criminals for acts that primarily harm only them.
The institutions that make up a society include government, community, family, church, business, media, and academia. When too much power and deference is given to one institution over the others it creates an imbalance throughout society. However, when all these institutions work cooperatively, society is productive and freedom abounds.
A drug-free society is much more likely when people choose to live clean, sober lives as opposed to being forced to live that way.
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Copyright 2012 St. George News.