The U.S. has spent an estimated $500 billion to fight drugs – with very little to show for it, says Rolling Stone. Cocaine remains cheap and heavily used. Methamphetamine, barely a presence in 1993, is now used by 1.5 million Americans and may be more addictive than crack. There are nearly 500,000 people behind bars for drug crimes – a twelvefold increase since 1980 – with no discernible effect on the drug traffic. Virtually the only success the government can claim is the decline in the number of Americans who smoke marijuana – and even on that count, it is not clear that federal prevention programs are responsible.
In the course of fighting this war, says Rolling Stone, we have allowed our military to become pawns in a civil war in Colombia and our drug agents to be used by the cartels for their own ends. Those we are paying to wage the drug war have been accused of human-rights abuses in Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia. In Mexico, we are now repeating many of the same mistakes we have made in the Andes. “What we learned was that in drug work, nothing ever stands still,” says John Coleman, a former Drug Enforcement Administration official who now heads Drug Watch International, a law-and-order advocacy group. For every move the drug warriors made, the traffickers adapted. “The other guys were learning just as we were learning,” he says. “We had this hubris.”