Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

An Analytic Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

An Analytic Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy

Article excerpt

An Analytic Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy

David Boyum and Peter Reuter

American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C. 2004

David Boyum and Peter Reuter report that the United States spends about $35 billion per year in public funds in an effort to control the use of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and other illegal drugs. As is well known, criminal drug-pushing organizations have amassed huge fortunes from the drug trade and have an enormous war chest from which to fund smuggling and find new customers. Confirmed drug addicts are their best source of revenue, and the need of addicts to find the funds with which to purchase drugs is a major cause of crime in the target countries. Add to this the cost to the U.S. of keeping almost half a million dealers and users under incarceration, and we realize the importance of the problem that Boyum and Reuter are tackling when they attempt to determine how well this massive investment of tax dollars and government authority is working.

Using a market framework, the book discusses the nature and effectiveness of efforts to tackle the nation's drug problems. Drug policy has become increasingly punitive, with the number of drug offenders in jail and prison growing tenfold between 1980 and 2003. Nevertheless, there is strikingly little evidence that tougher law enforcement can materially reduce drug use. By contrast, drug treatment services remain in short supply, even though research indicates that treatment expenditures easily pay for themselves in terms of reduced crime and improved productivity.

Boyum and Reuter conclude that America's drug policy should be reoriented in several ways to be more effective. It is their opinion that enforcement should focus on reducing drug-related problems, such as violence associated with drug markets, rather than on locking up large numbers of low-level dealers. They also recommend that treatment services for heavy users, particularly methadone and other opiate maintenance therapies, should be expanded, and that convicted drug addicts should be coerced into treatment programs, with continued abstinence from drugs being made a condition of their continued freedom. …

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