The War on Drugs --- A Different Approach

Debra Monde, MD

When a public policy isn't working, we should try something different. Despite thousands of arrests and seizures, America is still not drug free. Despite billions of dollars expended annually, no progress has been made to curb the war on drugs. Despite increasing numbers of prisons, there is still not enough room for all the criminals.

The Cato Institute, a nationally recognized Libertarian think tank, points out that the war on drugs is waged without Constitutional authority and, therefore, is inherently illegitimate. A costly failure, the drug war has corrupted law enforcement, distorted foreign policy, destroyed the lives of many, often innocent, people, and interfered with America's Fourth Amendment. Yet, illegal drugs are as easily available today as ever before.

Police officers and other members of outreach programs routinely suggest that public school students report illegal drug use - even by other family members. Rarely do they mention to our impressionable youth the consequences of criminal prosecution and possible imprisonment.

Such a snitch program has led to arrests that completely disrupt families. In September 1999, a 16-year-old Maryland girl reported her parents for growing marijuana in their home. Both parents were arrested and charged with two felony and misdemeanor charges and Child Protective Services has stripped them of custody of their daughter.

Meanwhile, an 11-year-old from Jackson, Florida watched as his father and stepmother were carted to jail for a similar report. Innocent children in our public school system are being subjected to drug screening tests. Authorities seize property worth tens of thousands of dollars on little more than a suspicion of drug trafficking. Many other such examples are found on a daily basis across our nation. This police state to which we are becoming accustomed has no place in an America that values individual liberties, less so for a nation that tries to promote "family values."

Parallels can be drawn to the era of Prohibition. Even at that time, Congress recognized that alcohol use was not stopped and the law only served to increase prison populations and violent crimes. While it was concerned mothers who made prohibition happen, it was those same mothers who, after watching their children beaten, arrested and killed because of resultant laws, ultimately led the repeal of Prohibition through the 21st Amendment. States were then able to design diverse liquor policies that were in tune with the preferences of their citizens.

Spending more than $30 billion a year and arresting 1.5 million people yearly is not stopping drug use and abuse. How much sense does it make to continue along the present path? By fighting this losing battle, public resources are spent on caring for non-criminals while diverting monies from programs like improving our schools.

A different strategy is needed. At this time, legalization falls outside the parameters of serious debate in Washington. The very real problem of drugs and alcohol should be addressed but in a new context. I recommend Congress should defer to the states to set their own policies while withdrawing the federal government from the war on drugs. Then, not only will we save tremendous monies for the taxpayer, but also allow and even encourage new and better alternatives to care for those with drug dependencies.

Dr. Monde is a family physician in Abilene, Texas, and a Libertarian candidate for U.S. Congress,

Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 2000:5(5):176. Copyright © 2000 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)