Eleven years ago today, the Harm Reduction Journal published “The war on marijuana: The transformation of the war on drugs in the 1990s,” a clinical study that examined how the drug war had shifted in the 1990s. The authors noted a “significant degree of misunderstanding regarding the current [cannabis] strategy, both in terms of how resources are being allocated and to what eventual gain,” and their aim was to conduct the first study solely focused “on marijuana offenders at all stages of the system” between 1990 and 2002. Despite all the pomp and propaganda surrounding drug war, the study found that the primary focus since 1990 had shifted to low-level marijuana offenses.
“During the study period, 82% of the increase in drug arrests nationally (450,000) was for marijuana offenses, and virtually all of that increase was in possession offenses,” the study found. “Of the nearly 700,000 arrests in 2002, 88% were for possession. Only 1 in 18 of these arrests results in a felony conviction, with the rest either being dismissed or adjudicated as a misdemeanor, meaning that a substantial amount of resources, roughly $4 billion per year for marijuana alone, is being dedicated to minor offenses.”
The clinical journal focuses on harm reduction, so what did the study conclude about the drug war’s role in reducing public harm?
“The results of this study suggest that law enforcement resources are not being effectively allocated to offenses which are most costly to society," the report stated. "The financial and personnel investment in marijuana offenses, at all points in the criminal justice system, diverts funds away from other crime types, thereby representing a questionable policy choice.”
To rephrase that in plain English, the ineffective drug war is a costly and questionable policy that ultimately empowers other types of crime. In other words, it's a harm increaser.