Are We Losing the War on Drugs?

The U.S. government’s decades-long war on drugs has often been criticized for its perceived ineffectiveness. Supporters of the program, however, claim that the high costs of the war on drugs justify the benefit gained in public health.

It turns out both sides are partially right. A recent government survey found that marijuana use is rising but the popularity of other drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine is declining.

In sum, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health paints a complicated portrait of a war that shows no signs of ending soon. To some extent, the survey challenges the effectiveness of leveling criminal charges against drug users.

Marijuana Use on the Rise

According to the recent survey, 6.9 percent of Americans over the age of 12 have used pot. This represents a total of 17.4 million Americans, and is a slight increase over the 5.8 percent usage rate discovered in 2007.

Why the increase in marijuana rates despite the federal government’s strict regulations against its use? The director of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, has a theory.

In Kerlikowske’s view, the recent passage of state laws allowing access to marijuana for medical purposes is linked to increased pot consumption in those states.

However, the link between medical marijuana licenses and increased pot use for the general population has not been definitely proven.

Nevertheless, as more states pass laws allowing medical marijuana licenses, a strange battle between states and the federal government has ensued.

This battle has recently been highlighted in California, where federal drug watchdogs have raided medical marijuana dispensaries, which are legal in California but technically illegal in the eyes of the federal government.

Thus, the war on drugs seems to have a fatal flaw, with different government agencies enforcing different rules in the same location.

Such contradictory laws have further diminished the public’s confidence in the war on drugs. However, other drug statistics provide a contrary view.

Meth and Cocaine are Growing Less Popular

Despite the rise in marijuana use, the survey also discovered that methamphetamine use has plummeted, with only 353,000 people admitting to meth use in 2010, a dramatic drop from the 731,000 meth consumers in 2006.

In addition, cocaine use dipped from a high of 2.4 million users in 2006 to just 1.5 million people in 2010.

However, the survey also discovered that the use of other “illicit drugs”—which includes a wide range of illegal substances—rose from 8.7 percent of the U.S. population in 2009 to 8.9 percent in 2010.

Thus, some critics claim that the war on drugs has simply led drug users to shift their conscious-altering substance of choice to drugs with fewer regulations.

In response, supporters of the war on drugs cite figures such as the dramatic decline in meth use as showing that the war on drugs is, at the very least, leading people away from the most dangerous addictive substances.

This debate will likely rage for years, but both sides can take some comfort in the government’s efforts to quantify the exact costs and benefits of the battle against drug use.

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