The War on Drugs Costs too Much

The failed War on Drugs destroys our liberty, wastes our money, and perpetuates injustice right here in Rochester. What can we do to stop it?

The same day I publish an article (back in July) about this very topic for the launch of The Greater Rochester Libertarian Party Newsletter, (You can subscribe here) the ACLU releases a scathing new report entitled “The War on Marijuana in Black and White.” The report chronicles how the War on Marijuana in particular has been an outrageous waste of money and has disproportionately affected minority communities. According to Ezekiel Edwards, the director of the A.C.L.U.’s Criminal Law Reform Project and the lead author of the report “We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner,” Despite marijuana use being at similar rates among white and black Americans, African-Americans were nearly four times more likely to be arrested for it in the United States.

Here in Monroe County, New York we manage to beat the average: In 2010, black residents were 6.8X more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white residents and made up 87% of all Marijuana arrests in the County.  In New York 59.4% drug arrests are for Marijuana alone. For people concerned about spending, New York State spent $678,450,560 enforcing Marijuana possession laws in 2010. Nationally we spend billions each year on just Marijuana enforcement and it continues to rise because policies that incentivize petty drug arrests with Federal money.

Below is an edited version of the article I wrote for the GRLP newsletter back in July:

The war on drugs generates fear that robs us of our rights and squanders our tax dollars; it has destroyed millions of lives, cost us billions of dollars, fills our prisons, perpetuates gang violence, violates our civil liberties, and has consistently failed to curb the market for illegal drugs.

Americans are fed up with the government controlling what should be an individual choice: According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 52% of Americans now support marijuana legalization. That includes 65% of Millennials and 50% of Baby Boomers.

Many of us recognize drug abuse as a serious problem but understand that over-criminalization and high incarceration rates for non-violent users is hardly a just solution in a free society. Our drug policy creates far more problems than it solves. The human and financial costs are too staggering to allow the failed war on drugs to continue.

The War on Drugs in Rochester

Benny Warr was waiting for the bus on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Bartlett Street in Rochester, NY when police asked him to clear the area. He told the police officers that he was waiting for the bus and did not want to move. Apparently Mr. Warr was less than polite about it, but that’s not a crime.  When he refused to comply with police authority, the police officers knocked Mr. Warr out of his wheelchair, beat him, and then charged him with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Why were the police so insistent on removing Mr. Warr from this corner? Not because he was committing a crime, not because there was an ongoing incident that could jeopardize his safety, but because there had been drug activity in the area and they wanted all citizens off the public streets. Mr. Warr, a wheelchair bound African American man, may be one of many victims of destructive policing and systematic oppression that the war on drugs enables.

After decades of militarization from the war on drugs (and the war on terror) many police forces are overgrown, aggressive, and unaccountable. The new warrior cop class is destructive to all of us but hits low income, minority communities the hardest.  The War on Drugs is a major source of contention that pits peace officers against the communities they are sworn to protect.  It’s time to restore liberty and peace by ending the war on drugs.

Here are a few things you can do to help end the War on Drugs:

  • Elect candidates that would pull resources away from drug enforcement and focus on real crime
  • Encourage state and local officials to reform drug forfeiture procedures so governments cannot profit from drug arrests
  • Encourage your member of Congress to end unconstitutional drug policy by cutting off funding for drug enforcement and giving control back to the states where it belongs
  • For the especially bold, you could always try jury nullification
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