5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About the War On Drugs


Whether it's grainy clips of Richard Nixon speeches, five seasons of The Wire, or weed-addled wisdom while watching Pineapple Express, chances are you know something about America's War on Drugs. Despite a proliferating list of states decriminalizing marijuana, the prohibition of narcotics and controlled substances continues to rage on.

With such an emulous issue comes a lot of misconception. Push up your lighters and toast to five things you could learn about the War on Drugs.

1. Legalizing Drugs Would Make About One-Third Of the U.S. Police Force Expendable

Former high-ranking narcotics officer and current head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) Neill Franklin admits that "if we were to legalize, you could get rid of one-third of every law-enforcement agency in this country." Let that resonate for a second.

New York City alone has a police budget of around $4.4 billion. Cutting a third of this towering figure is enough to fund over 53 thousand NYC youth in public schools or bridge the $1.3 billion deficit New York's state assembly has been ardently working to reduce.

It's obviously not quite as simple as adding and subtracting hypotheticals, but these statistics do highlight the scope of the issue. Regardless of legalization, funding would still exist for treatment centers and education/prevention programs. Franklin notes that many agencies supporting drug prohibition act in self-interest, while others may be weary of reducing police forces by such a drastic amount, no matter the reason.

2. Weed Busts Are Startlingly Racial

You've probably heard about that promulgated statistic of a marijuana-related arrest occurring once every 42 seconds in the U.S. in 2012. That number's down to 37 now. What you may not know, however, is how stark the contrasts are between racial groups.

In 2011, almost half of the people booked from marijuana in New York City identified as African American, with blacks and Latinos combining for roughly four-fifths of all those arrests. Despite approximately 14 million regular tokers in America, it's reported that blacks are 3.7 times more likely to get handcuffed.

In Illinois' crammed Cook County Jail, 72.7 of inmates charged with weed-related crimes are black, the ACLU said back in 2011. Even more surprising? African Americans in the age 18-25 demographic, one which is frequented by pot arrests, have slightly lower rates of regular usage than their Caucasian contemporaries. The level of disproportion is that high.

3. Many Illegal Drugs Are Less Harmful Than Tobacco Or Alcohol

You probably knew that weed is less addictive than alcohol. You may have even known that alcohol withdrawal registers slightly more intense than heroin withdrawal.

What you likely haven't stumbled upon, however, is the addictive properties and physical damage of some less popular outlawed drugs.

Courtesy of England's Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, you can see some pretty interesting juxtapositions. Both LSD and ecstasy are reported to be less harmful and addictive than alcohol, weed or even tobacco. Though the two can always be laced with other psychoactive substances (molly is often splayed with a world of different things), it's still some convincing evidence.

It's hard to put so much faith in one study, but without reason to doubt it right now, your curiosity on drug prohibition and alcohol legalization might be piqued.

4. The Drug Trade Could Be a National Economy Of Its Own

Seriously. The UN estimates that illicit trade is a $1.3 trillion business, with $322 billion of that coming from drugs. That GDP puts the trade ahead of Greece, Portugal, and Venezuela, to name a few.

Would harnessing some of the value of the mythical land of Weedonia (stop picturing it) help buoy the American economy? If illegal drugs were taxed at the current rate of cigarettes and booze, it would yield more than $41 billion. Of that money, approximately $26 billion would accrue to state governments, with the remaining $16 billion or so going to the federal government.

It goes beyond that though. Keeping a person in prison for a year costs as much as $44 thousand, higher than many college tuitions. Some states spend almost twice as much on incarceration than on higher education, paradoxical at best. Cutting drug-related inmates would add to that gaudy multibillion-dollar savings.

5. Contrary to Popular Belief, the Obama Administration Has Cracked Down On Medical Marijuana

You've probably seen this. And this. But have you heard about our President's multiagency effort raiding medical marijuana dispensaries? The Obama administration shut down over 100 dispensaries in its first three years, affecting some 73 thousand patients.

Those busts aren't cheap, either. Over $300 million has been spent in subduing medical marijuana, no small price for a country with a worsening national debt. Though the issue is gaining rapt public support, medical marijuana is currently legal in only 18 states and, ironically, Washington, D.C., itself.