It’s time to take a cold, hard look at the failures of the 20th century’s public policy decisions.
The War on Drugs has failed. Public education, especially in cities, is a mess. The welfare bureaucracy has grown out of control and the debt pile it fuels shows no sign of shrinking. We need an immigration system that lets the world’s best and brightest stay here after getting their college degrees. These are not radical statements in Washington anymore. The damage from outdated laws and the political economy that produced them compounds every year.
Faced with a mountain of debt, cities, states and the federal government will seek new ways to generate the growth and prosperity they need to keep the lights on. This means free-market reform that improves the business climate and better provides existing services.
Jordan Hawthorne learnt the dangers of ‘legal highs’ the hard way. After he woke up from a coma with severe brain damage – caused by smoking the freely available substance ‘Vertex’ – his father stated his support for the proposed Psychoactive Substances Bill. This legislation aims to tackle the growth of ‘head shops’: retailers that sell legal highs on British streets. If the bill is passed, it will pre-emptively ban the trade of every new psychoactive substance in the UK. Violators will face a maximum of seven years in prison.
Ironically, the very nature of the law is un-British. Charlotte Bowyer, writing for the Adam Smith Institute, points out that “for a party so concerned with preserving the UK’s legal identity it wants to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, this represents a break from centuries of British common law, under which we are free to do something unless the law expressly forbids it.”
Aside from being so unashamedly hypocritical, there are a number of serious problems that will be caused by this blanket ban. First and foremost, many drug researchers fear that it would severely hamper their efforts to explore the potential medical benefits of psychoactive substances. James Rucker, who lectures in psychiatry at King’s College London, told The Guardian that the Government’s approach to legal highs already “stymies research,” making it much harder to “discover which of these new psychoactive substances might have medical benefits.”
Americans live in the last days of a hundred-year-long international drug war. Fifty-two percent of the country has come to the view that marijuana criminalization is outright wrong, and 67 percent believe that punitive criminalization is not the best way to address harder addictions.
But what is lost in this argument over criminalization is a sense of priorities. Even if one believes that drug laws should exist and be enforced, there is no rational course of action but to divert the vast majority of anti-drug funding to the enforcement of worse crimes, like human trafficking.
Human-trafficking statistics are notorious for varying widely, but according the Department of State, as many as 17,500 people may be trafficked into the U.S. annually. Including those trafficked within the country, the number is likely in the hundreds of thousands.
In fiscal year 2011, according to an analysis of State Department data from the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, the U.S spent $77 million on programs to combat human trafficking domestically and internationally. Human-trafficking prevention also has been the victim of significant cuts over the budget battles during the Obama administration. By contrast, in 2010, the U.S. spent $15 billion on drug-trafficking enforcement programs.
As the United States prepares to enter its 44th year waging a “war on drugs,” more and more Americans have come tounderstand the consequences of this failed policy. But while economists underline theinordinate financial costs and civil rights activists lament over disproportionate arrest rates, Fourth Amendment violations and the human cost of police militarization, there’s a group of drug war casualties that many often neglect: animals.
Shortly after 9 pm on March 9, an Ohio SWAT team executing a no-knock raid,busted down the front door of Susan Smith’s home and tossed inside a flashbang grenade. Susan’s husband, obeying police command, rushed to cage their pit bull, Lulu. But in the panicked frenzy, Lulu managed to break free from her cage and darted around the house, prompting one of the police officers to discharge his weapon. In a split second, Lulu had been shot. The wounded dog then limped out the broken-down door to the front yard, where neighbors say she was shot at least three more times. The reason for the raid? Police suspected that the Smith family had marijuana in the house.
Stories like Lulu’s are tragic to hear, but they highlight an important group of drug war casualties that is often neglected. Most people are so preoccupied by the use of excessive force and the human casualties claimed during drug searches, that they often overlook “man’s best friend,” who often just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Today, a dog is shot by law enforcement every 98 minutes, while the number of officers who have been killed by a dog over the past 50 years rests at zero.
Surely, a large factor in the excessive number of shootings is the inadequate training police have in dealing with canines – a pet nearly half of all US households have. But do dogs really pose that big of a threat to police? As Radley Balko pointed out in the Daily Beast back in 2009, “If dangerous dogs are so common, one would expect to find frequent reports of vicious attacks on meter readers, postal workers, firemen, and delivery workers.” Yet this has not been the case.