Slowly Learning the Hard Way: U.S. America’s War on Drugs And Implications for Mexico


U.S. America’s aggressive drug enforcement policy, costing over US$1 trillion and putting millions of people in prison for casual drug use, is an abject failure.

By regulating drug use rather than criminalizing it, per capita recreational drug use in the United States would be the same or even lower than it currently is, safer for consumers, and far less costly to society in terms of socioeconomic harm.

This failed policy has not only affected U.S. society in such a harmful way that it almost cannot be overstated, but it has also resulted in quite needless drug cartel violence in Mexico and other countries. Included here is a pragmatic suggestion for reform of U.S. drug policy.

Key words: war on drugs, prohibition, drug use in the United States, drug liberalization, drug decriminalization, drug use studies, U.S. drug policy.


La agresiva política de Estados Unidos contra las drogas, con un costo de más de un billón de dó- lares y millones de personas enviadas a prisión por consumo casual de drogas ha resultado un fracaso absoluto.

Regularizar el consumo de drogas en lugar de criminalizarlo daría como resultado un consumo per cápita de drogas recreativas igual o incluso menor al que existe actualmen- te, más seguro para los usuarios y con daños mucho menos costosos en términos socioeconómicos.

Esta fallida política no sólo ha afectado a la sociedad estadunidense de una manera tan dañina que ni siquiera podría exagerarse, sino que ha generado una violencia completamente innecesaria entre los cárteles de la droga en México y otros países.

Se ofrece en este artículo una sugerencia pragmática para reformar las políticas estadunidenses en la materia.

Palabras clave: guerra contra las drogas, prohibición, consumo de drogas en Estados Unidos, liberalización de las drogas, despenalización de las drogas, estudios sobre el consumo de dro- gas, políticas públicas contra las drogas de Estados Unidos.

By way of background, some time ago I published an academic paper focusing on the legal uncertainties regarding conflicts between state and federal laws with regard to California’s decriminalization of medical marihuana (Olives, 2012: 55).

The research for the article necessarily required a great deal of reading about U.S. drug policy and encompassed such diverse disciplines as science, medicine, the social sciences, law, politics, and religion.

As I said then, the research proved to be an object lesson for both scholars and students on the importance of interdisciplinary studies.

The First War on Drugs:
Alcohol Prohibition in the United States
The Current War on Drugs:
History and Consequences
Analysis of Comparative Data on Drug use and Enforcement Expenditures in Liberal versus Strict Enforcement Jurisdictions
Piecemeal Political Solutions
Implications for Mexico
Special Note

But due to the specialized legal focus of that paper (state and federal conflict of laws as discussed in recent U.S. Supreme Court cases), much of my research was not used; it is, however, interesting and surprising in its own right, and I think it bears sharing.

Illegal and legal drug use is hardly ever ignored by the news cycle. Most recently, Uruguay legalized marihuana, and U.S. state of Colorado legalized the recreational use of marihuana, joining 22 other states that have either legalized or decriminalized it for various uses (Governing Outlook, 2014).

1 Television and print media have been overrun with both proponents and opponents debating drug policy liberalization in the United States.