Why The War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure
The war against drugs has been a terrible disaster for everybody involved. Why? And can we do something differently?
Over 40 years ago, US President Richard Nixon 0:02 declared drug abuse public enemy number one, 0:05 starting an unprecedented global campaign, the War on Drugs. 0:09 Today, the numbers are in. 0:11 The War on Drugs is a huge failure, with devastating unintended consequences. 0:16 It led to mass incarceration in the US; 0:19 to corruption, political destabilization, and violence 0:22 in Latin America, Asia, and Africa; 0:24 to systemic human rights abuses across the world. 0:28 It negatively affected the lives of millions of people. 0:31 All of this while we waste billions of dollars every year 0:34 only to create and fuel powerful drug cartels 0:37 while the goal of the War on Drugs seems less achievable than ever: 0:41 a world without drugs. 0:43 How could this happen? 0:54 The core strategy of the War on Drugs is “no drugs, no problems”. 0:58 So almost all of the efforts in the last few decades 1:01 have been focused on eradicating the supply of drugs 1:03 and incarcerating drug traffickers. 1:06 But this ignores the most fundamental of market forces, 1:09 supply and demand. 1:11 If you reduce the supply of anything without reducing the demand first, 1:15 its price goes up. 1:17 This might lower sales for many products, but not for drugs. 1:20 The drugs market is not price-sensitive. 1:23 Drugs will be consumed no matter what they cost. 1:26 So the effect is to encourage production of more drugs and 1:30 recruitment of more traffickers, which increases availability. 1:34 This is also known as the balloon effect: even if drug production or 1:38 a major supply route is destroyed, the supply for the end user is not reduced. 1:43 A perfect example of this is crystal meth. 1:46 The US Government tried to stop its production 1:48 by strictly regulating the sale of chemicals used to manufacture the drug. 1:53 This forced big meth producers out of business, 1:55 but the unintended consequences were that thousands of small-scale operations 1:59 started all over the country, mostly in small towns and rural communities, 2:03 using chemicals that weren’t regulated. 2:06 In response to this, some US states wanted to reduce the supply of home-grown meth 2:10 by regulating even more chemicals, 2:12 which reduced small-scale meth production drastically. 2:15 But the supply of meth still stayed the same. 2:18 Mexican drug cartels immediately took over and opened big production operations. 2:23 Their meth was even better than it was before, 2:25 and they had lots of experience in smuggling. 2:28 So all these efforts made meth production more professional, 2:31 the drug more potent, while supply wasn’t reduced at all. 2:35 You can’t win this war on the supply side. 2:38 Not only are drugs widely available, demand unbroken, 2:41 and some drugs purer than in the past, with a budget of around $30 billion, 2:46 the US Drug Enforcement Agency has an efficiency rate of less than 1% 2:50 when it comes to stopping the flow of drugs into the US 2:53 and inside the US. 2:54 For many minors around the world, it’s as easy to get illegal drugs as alcohol. 3:00 But it doesn’t stop here. 3:01 Prohibition may prevent a certain amount of people from taking drugs, 3:04 but in the process it causes huge damage to society as a whole. 3:09 Many of the problems we associate with drug use 3:11 are actually caused by the war against them. 3:14 For example, prohibition makes drugs stronger. 3:17 The more potent drugs you can store in as little space as possible, 3:20 the more profit you’ll make. 3:22 It was the same during alcohol prohibition, 3:23 which led to an increased consumption of strong liquor over beer. 3:27 The prohibition of drugs also led to more violence and murders around the world. 3:31 Gangs and cartels have no access to the legal system to settle disputes, 3:35 so they use violence. 3:37 This led to an ever-increasing spiral of brutality. 3:40 According to some estimates, the homicide rate in the US 3:43 is 25–75% higher because of the War on Drugs. 3:47 And in Mexico, the country on the frontline, 3:49 an estimated 164,000 have been murdered between 2007 and 2014, 3:55 more people than in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq 3:58 in the same period, combined. 4:00 But where the War on Drugs might do the most damage to society 4:03 is the incarceration of non-violent drug offenders. 4:06 For example, the United States, 4:08 one of the driving forces of the War on Drugs, 4:10 has 5% of the world’s total population, but 25% of the world’s prison population, 4:16 largely due to the harsh punishments and mandatory minimums. 4:20 Minorities suffer because of this especially. 4:23 African Americans make up 40% of all US prison inmates. 4:27 And while white kids are more likely to abuse drugs, 4:30 black kids are 10 times more likely to get arrested for drug offenses. 4:34 OK, but is there actually something different we could do? 4:37 Is there a way out of this mess? 4:39 In the 1980s, Switzerland experienced 4:41 a public health crisis related to heroin use. 4:44 HIV rates skyrocketed and street crime became a problem. 4:48 Swiss authorities tried a new strategy: harm reduction. 4:52 They opened free heroin maintenance centers, 4:54 where addicts would be treated and stabilized. 4:57 Here, people would be given free heroin of high quality, 4:59 they would get clean needles and have access to safe injection rooms, 5:03 showers, beds, and medical supervision. 5:06 Social workers help them find housing and deal with other problems in their lives. 5:11 The results were a sharp drop in drug-related crime 5:14 and two thirds of the people in the centers got regular jobs, 5:16 because now they could focus on getting better 5:18 insetad of financing their addiction. 5:21 Today, over 70% of all heroin addicts in Switzerland receive treatment. 5:26 HIV infections have dropped drastically. 5:29 Deaths from heroin overdoses have dropped by 50%. 5:33 And drug-related street sex work and crime has been reduced enormously. 5:37 So there are methods that are not only way cheaper, 5:40 but also actually work, instead of creating more problems. 5:44 Drug prohibition led to a system that bulldozes human rights, 5:47 costs vasts sums of money, and creates a lot of human misery, 5:51 all in pursuit of an unobtainable goal. 5:54 After 40 years of fighting, it’s time to finally end the War on Drugs 5:59 and move on to something better. 6:02 This video was supported by the Open Society Foundations 6:05 and by viewer donations on Patreon. 6:07 If you want to learn more about how you can influence drug policy, 6:10 check out the Stop the Harm campaign. 6:13 We finally have some merchandise! 6:15 If you want your own Kurzgesagt poster, T-shirt, mug, 6:18 or stickers of little monsters, 6:20 you can get them now at the DFTBA store! 6:23 Subtitles by the Amara.org community
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