America’s Failed Drug War Is Crazy

The following is a transcript of a TED talk by Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. 

Ethan Nadelmann

What has the War on Drugs done to the world? Look at the murder and mayhem in Mexico, Central America, so many other parts of the planet, the global black market estimated at 300 billion dollars a year, prisons packed in the United States and elsewhere, police and military drawn into an unwinnable war that violates basic rights, and ordinary citizens just hope they don’t get caught in the crossfire, and meanwhile, more people using more drugs than ever. It’s my country’s history with alcohol prohibitionand Al Capone, times 50.

Which is why it’s particularly galling to me as an American that we’ve been the driving force behind this global drug war. Ask why so many countries criminalize drugs they’d never heard of, why the U.N. drug treaties emphasize criminalization over health, even why most of the money worldwide for dealing with drug abuse goes not to helping agencies but those that punish, and you’ll find the good old U.S. of A.

Why did we do this? Some people, especially in Latin America, think it’s not really about drugs. It’s just a subterfuge for advancing the realpolitik interests of the U.S. But by and large, that’s not it. We don’t want gangsters and guerrillas funded with illegal drug money terrorizing and taking over other nations.

No, the fact is, America really is crazy when it comes to drugs. I mean, don’t forget, we’re the ones who thoughtthat we could prohibit alcohol. So think about our global drug war not as any sort of rational policy, but as the international projection of a domestic psychosis.

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