The war on drugs was the worst domestic policy decision since Jim Crow. Liberals are correct that it also had a racist origin, but it expanded beyond that into a mechanism for fueling militarized, paranoid police. The principles of prohibition’s failures have reached Washington state, Colorado, and Oregon. Twenty-three states and Washington DC have legalized medical marijuana. We do, however, still have DEA. We have a DEA head who says medical marijuana is a fraud.
The Fourth Amendment’s current status is bruised and battered, and the drug war has a great deal to do with that. Exigent circumstances make it easier for cops to quickly break down a door. Civil asset forfeiture makes policing profitable. Hovering 300 feet over a property in a helicopter is legal, according to the Supreme Court.
Even post-PATRIOT Act, supposed terrorism powers such as sneak and peek warrants—where the object of investigation doesn’t know he is being targeted—end up being used for drug investigations. We also have parallel construction where a National Security Agency investigation leads to potential drug crime, so the DEA is tipped off, with defendants never knowing the source of the case against them. AT&T and the DEA stored phone numbers for decades.
The war on drugs has leaked into Afghanistan and permeated Latin America, where DEA agents sometimes seemingly act as commando squads. In the 40-odd years since Richard Nixon first uttered the phrase “war on drugs,” it has cost more than $1 trillion.
Americans have died because of the war on drugs, more of them than anybody has bothered to count. The scores of thousands of Mexicans who died in that nation’s particularly literal drug war also have American prohibition to blame in part for fueling cartel’s profits.