Is the War on Drugs Failing, and What is It Costing the Economy?

To quote the late, great comedian Bill Hicks; “I loved when Bush came out and said, ‘We are losing the war against drugs.’ You know what that implies? There’s a war being fought, and the people on drugs are winning it.”

The ‘war on drugs’ based on the existing model is a battle that is still yet to be won. Since inception in the early 70s, the war continues, inconclusive and without success. With governments pouring billions of dollars into prohibition, this model has proven its ineffectiveness time and time again.

In the words of former Victorian police chief commissioner Ken Lay, “for the last ten years we’ve been trying to arrest our way out of this and we haven’t succeeded, so we need to look to other solutions.”

In a 2013 research paper, Dr John Jiggens stated, “Prohibition acts as a multiplier for the black market. Every dollar we spend on drug law enforcement is worth $10 to the black market.”

You only need to visit a music festival to witness the prevailing drug culture at its finest, lips chewed and eyes bulging, despite patrolling police wielding sniffer dogs at the festival’s entrance. Anecdotal evidence aside, the prohibition of drugs has done little to hinder the use and sale of drugs in Australia.

In November last year, former Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Mick Palmer told The New Daily, “Seeing this as simply a law enforcement issue has proven a failed exercise. It hasn’t worked, never worked and has no chance of working.”

Many have concluded that the war on drugs has failed, and that this continual denial is doing more damage than good. The costs of this supposed war lie not only in the loss of life, but the financial cost of enforcing the prohibition of illicit drugs.

Estimates on the Australian Government’s spending on illicit drug related activities range from 2 to 3bn dollars per year. According to economist Timothy Moore’s 2008 estimates, just over half of expenditure relating to illicit drug activities was allocated to enforcement.

While the decriminalisation of drugs may not be the answer, there is the question of how much revenue could be generated by such a move. It is possible that the regulation of illicit drugs could be generating profitable tax revenue, likened to that of tobacco or alcohol.

After legalising marijuana in some states, both Colorado and Washington raked in a combined $200 million in taxes, with the industry expected to grow even further this year.

The continuation of the prohibition model could be affecting more than just the health of others. With millions tied up in law enforcement and imprisonment, and a lack of results to justify the means, surely there is a more effective allocation funds.