Meanwhile, popular attitudes towards drug policy in the United States are finally shifting. For the first time since Gallup started asking the question, the majority of Americans think marijuana use should be legal. And the country already has what might be called a more nuanced approach to other addictive drugs. The U.S. government is happy to conclude trade agreements that actually encourage smoking around the world, for example. And the United States is willing to bear the domestic health costs of tobacco and alcohol use that kill 30 times as many people a year as do illegal drugs. Yes, policies towards cocaine or heroin should be far more constraining than those towards cigarettes or beer, but the rationale for such a completely different approach to one set of substances than the other is threadbare.
Nobody should underestimate the appalling toll of drug addiction -- it ends many lives and ruins many more. Of the 250 million drug users worldwide, the United Nations estimates around 25 million are dependent. The question is, does the current approach towards drug policy work to reduce that toll? And what are the spillover effects of America and Europe's hard line on drugs to other countries? The evidence suggests the policy has failed and that the spillover effects are considerable.
The good news is that a different strategy could turn around the violence and lower the economic, social, and health costs of narcotics. America and Europe should commit to a drug policy based around public health and regulation -- making drug use safer, legal, and rare -- rather than criminalization and paramilitary enforcement. That switch will save money and families at home alongside lives and livelihoods abroad. It is time the world ended its addiction to war as a tool of social control.