Breaking the Addiction to a Failed Policy

April 18, 2012

My column for Foreign Policy this week was on the global war on drugs.  It recounts how the war, begun four decades ago by President Nixon, has failed to raise drug prices or reduce consumption in the US.  Yet the spillover effects at home are grim: spending on enforcement and imprisonment along with the huge social costs of a bulging prison population.  And the impact on the rest of the world has been even worse.  Tens of thousands have died in the conflict between drug cartels and police –many of whom were innocent bystanders.  Increasingly, international drug rings threaten whole states with narco-kleptocracy.The idea of the column was sparked in part by Michael Clemens’ CGD blog on the issue of drugs being raised at last weekend’s Summit of the Americas.  Michael noted that Latin American leaders were crying out for new approaches up to and including decriminalization and regulation.  And the column cites Oeindrila Dube’s paper for CGD showing that increases in US military aid to Colombia for the drug war lead to greater paramilitary violence in the country.  Increasingly, as Michael and Oeindrila’s writing suggests, the drug war is a vital development topic –as the costs of a failed policy weigh ever more heavily on poor countries and poor farmers in those countries.  But just like climate, or trade, or migration, this is also an issue where doing the right thing for the world is clearly the best domestic course for the United States, as well.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.