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Rethink the "War on Drugs"
Yale Law Report (2007)
  • John J. Donohue, Stanford Law School

Crime is an issue that often seeps into Presidential elections in one form or another. Indeed, the Bush Administration has rolled back or undermined the two primary crime‐fighting initiatives of the Clinton Administration by allowing the 1994 federal ban on assault weapons to lapse, and by eliminating Clinton’s COPS program, which put tens of thousands of new police on the streets of American cities. Gun control is largely a dead letter, since the NRA has shown that it has the power to keep any type of gun in the hands of anyone who wants them, as well as the power to punish any Democrat who seeks greater gun control legislation.

One area that could bring large dividends in terms of crime reduction would be to change tactics in the quagmire of the American war on drugs. With blind fidelity to a failed policy, we continue to fritter away scarce law enforcement resources fighting sale and possession of drugs and to put hundreds of thousands in prison at enormous cost to taxpayers and to inmates and their families. Many substances from alcohol and nicotine to marijuana, cocaine, and heroin impose high social costs on American society, but only the illegal drugs lead to mass incarceration, corruption of police, street killings, and other acts of violence in the effort to market them to a desirous American population. Just as the end of Prohibition generated enormous crime reductions, legalization of the above drugs would likely bring about similar crime drops, while risking increases in the high costs attending the likely increase in consumption and abuse.

  • Drugs,
  • war on drugs
Publication Date
Summer 2007
Citation Information
John J. Donohue. "Rethink the "War on Drugs"" Yale Law Report Vol. 54 Iss. 2 (2007)
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