Drug War: Getting Our Priorities Straight
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.
The illegal drug and human trades are respectively worth about $300 billion and $150 billion. But few, if any, would argue that the natural consequences of human trafficking — at best labor exploitation (which is how about 17 percent of trafficked humans are exploited), and at worst sexual slavery (which is how 80 percent of trafficked humans are exploited) — outweigh the natural consequences of drug use. Indeed, as Johann Hari notes, the scientific evidence is quite clear that the vast majority of drug users do not become addicted, and that those who do can better lead productive lives through medically managed addiction than through judicially managed addiction.
Perhaps there is nothing more money could possibly improve in regards to human trafficking, while drug-war funding is well-spent — but that strains all credulity. By one estimate, only about 1 in 100 human-trafficking victims are recovered under present schemes, and the 2014 State Department Report on Human Trafficking recommends "increased screenings to identify trafficked persons," "efforts to strengthen coordination among justice systems," "enhanced training" on state and federal levels, and, tellingly, "increase[d] funding for relevant agencies." And the American people often get little in return for government drug-war efforts — according to a study by the Texas ACLU on drug interdiction, "up to 99% of traffic stops" performed by certain federally funded drug task forces "result in no citation."
Simply stated, there are better things Americans could be spending their tax dollars on than an effort to stop than the import and export of drugs, such as an effort to stop the import and export of people, and it's time the federal budget reflected that.
Randal John Meyer is a Young Voices Advocate and a legal research fellow living in New York City. Twitter: @randaljohnmeyer