Three Unintended Consequences of the War on Drugs

Milton Friedman is the greatest republican economist of all time.

Recently the Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson laid out his case against drug law reform. (Here’s a link to the article, but be warned, it has crashed my browser almost every time I’ve opened it. LINK)

His argument is this: if Nebraska reforms it’s drug laws then more kids will use drugs. Drugs are bad for kids so we don’t want more kids to use drugs. Therefore, Nebraska must maintain (or increase) it’s “War on Drugs”.

This isn’t actually a terrible argument. In fact it may even be true that if Nebraska were to legalize marijuana that more “kids” may use it. We can’t say for sure one way or the other, but I’m willing to concede that point for the sake of this argument.

The problem with his argument is not that it’s specifically wrong, it’s that it’s too narrow. It fails to factor in all the other consequences of the drug war.

An aside: republicans often criticize democrats for not foreseeing the unintended consequences of their desired policies. The claimed (rightly) that the “Affordable Care Act” would have the *unintended* consequence of making health insurance more expensive. I wish they were able to muster the same level of imagination (or in this case mere observation) to see the unintended consequences of the drug war.


1. The USA has 5% of the world’s population and 25%of the world’s prisoners.

This isn’t one of the categories in which you want your country to be overrepresented. It’s shameful that ¼ humans on this planet that are in prison are in prison in the United States of America — The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

Prison is an awful, violent place, and should be reserved for people that cannot be trusted to live peacefully among us. It is absolutely not just to imprison peaceful people for the crime of disobeying an arbitrary government rule.

Even if you set aside the injustice, it’s an irrational policy. We know something about what causes addiction and what helps addicts recover. It isn’t prison.

In fact, when Portugal stopped imprisoning drug users they saw drug overdoses plummet to 1/10th of the amount of England.

2. Our policies are directly responsible for funding the murderous drug cartels in Mexico and South America.

Over 80,000 Mexicans have been killed due to organized crime (cartels) since 2006. Furthermore, 26,121 people have gone missing during that same. (Here are some pictures if you can stomach them)

Drug cartels in Mexico often have more money the the government and can afford to buy armies and enforce their control over vast areas of Mexico.

And why is it that these cartels have so much money? The drug war, of course.

By making it illegal to manufacture and sell drugs, the US Government has made it impossible for good, decent businesses to compete with the drug cartels. Only those willing to bear the risk of jail or death will sell drugs.

The most famous republican economist in history made it very clear what role the US Government plays in the drug war:

I beg you to watch the video below.

“Nothing scares me about the notion of drugs being legal. What scares me is us notion of continuing on the path we’re on now which will destroy our free society” — Milton Friedman

3. The drug war destroys families — especially black families

“2.7 million children are growing up in U.S. households in which one or more parents are incarcerated. Two-thirds of these parents are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, including a substantial proportion who are incarcerated for drug law violations. One in nine black children has an incarcerated parent, compared to one in 28 Latino children and one in 57 white children.”— The Drug Policy Alliance

Doesn’t that make your heart hurt? I have two young boys and I cannot imagine them growing up without their father because I was kidnapped and locked in a cage by agents of the state for the *crime* of owning a plant.

But usually that doesn’t happen to people like me. I’m middle class and would have access to a good lawyer. Many people aren’t so fortunate. The system chews them up and spits them out.

Whether drug laws were originally intended to be racist or not, the effects are undeniable.

“Black people comprise 13 percent of the U.S.population,10 and are consistently documented by theU.S. government to use drugs at similar rates to people of other races. But black people comprise 31 percent of those arrested for drug law violations, and nearly 40 percent of those incarcerated in state or federal prison for drug law violations.” — The Drug Policy Alliance

I could go on…

This was an extremely condensed list. There are many other bad consequences of the drug war, such as:

  1. Ruining the relationship between the public and the police.
  2. Causing new and much more dangerous drugs to be created.
  3. Causing people to consume drugs of unknown potency. (have you ever picked up a Bud Light and been shocked to find that it was 100 proof whiskey?… of course not)
  4. Destroying privacy laws and the fourth amendment. (because how do you catch a “criminal” when no one reports a crime?)
  5. etc etc etc

This is just step one

I don’t expect to convince the hardened drug warrior that their errand is at best foolish and at worst a crime against humanity. I only hope to show the not-that-interested person that the drug war is not a harmless policy. Real people are being taken away from their families and locked in cages. Real people are being murdered by drug cartels to whom our policies guarantee riches.

That’s all for now.

If you learned something from this post I would very much appreciate a share (even if you disagree — just say so!).