What elements keep the war on drugs going?

I’d like to know what institutions, demographic groups, ideas, worldviews and other factors enable the war on drugs to keep going.

When I say “demographic groups”, I’m referring to tendencies; groups where support is particularly high.

By “war on drugs” I mean seeing drug abuse as chiefly a question of deterrence through law enforcement & prison and not seeing much of a difference between use of psychoactive substances vs abuse, even for drugs which have relatively low dependence and toxicity potential.

As a correlate, what elements helped bring about alcohol Prohibition and what elements brought about its end?

I’m sure there are a ton of factors. I think one is that the for-profit prison industry has a financial incentive to see as many people locked up for as long as possible, and they lobby for strict sentencing of drug crimes.

Not sure if that’s the most significant factor, but it’s one of the more morally reprehensible pieces of the puzzle.

Got any opinions of your own Michael? This question reads like you’re asking for someone to do your homework.

I have although when I ask this sort of question, I dislike to insert my own opinions early on lest it influences others’ input. I will mention my own hypotheses, fear not.

#1 - MONEY

Lots of money to be made not just from the fines, but mostly from asset seizure, bribes, etc.

#2 - Paramilitary Playhouse

You know, throw flash-bangs in old people’s laps, bust in all gung ho, throw people to the ground, bust heads, work up some serious testosterone poisoning…

Seriously, read up on some of those ‘Drug Warriors’. It’s all about being “warriors” and being in battle and all that crap.

Well, I think that there’s a lot of ignorance and misinformation out there among the older and/or less drug-friendly set. For example, I had a long debate in college with a grad student who was adamantly opposed to weed, as he was CONVINCED that it was a stepping stone to becoming a hardcore crackhead, and that any use was starting down a slippery slope. So for him, there was no concept of recreational weed use that would just stay there- everyone who ever smoked a bowl was on the bobsled to sucking d**k for crack. (interestingly this guy was inner city black; not the demographic I’d have expected for that attitude). So there’s this notion that use/posession penalties save lives in a deterrent manner. This seems to be the default position of usually naive suburban types who are often also Smapti-style law and order dorks, with all the harshness and irrationality that comes with that.

Then there’s the (IMO) more pragmatic set that realizes that since all these drugs are illegal, then organized crime runs the production and distribution machine, and see the war on drugs as a de-facto war on organized crime. This is all fine and good, but there’s enough overlap with the first crowd that efforts to legalize the less harmful drugs run into roadblocks at every turn.

The major factor is general public opinion. It is only in the last few years there has been a switch to favoring legalizing marijuana, for example, and I don’t think any other currently illegal drugs would have majority support for legalization.

As for my own hypothesis, drug prohibition is electorally quite important for many who want to become/stay in elected posts of the legislative/executive branches because it is an issue which large chunks of swing voters feel strongly about. I am thinking largely of suburban moms who are generally quite risk averse and think that anything which might have a sliver or a probability of a chance of negatively impacting their children ought not exist, irrespective of any potential benefits; Think Marge Simpson or the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

It must also be kept in mind that the War on Drugs was started by Nixon as part of his Law & Order platform. This seemed to be both a reaction to the excesses of the 60s/70s and also the fear which some members of every generation seem to feel that the last generation was the last one to have it tough and do it right and now the kids have gone crazy and have it too easy.

Opposition to some drugs like psychedelics might be based on ignorance. Nearly everyone can relate to depressants or stimulants but I can see how someone might get freaked out by the idea of psychedelics.

Just to name a few:

  1. Cops’ Unions: More drug busts = more federal money for those sweet toys like MRAPs and flash-bang grenades and such. Not to mention, the bigger your city’s drug “problem” is, the more cops you need. Obviously.

  2. Big Pharma: I’m going to sound like a conspiracy theorist here, but if people are finding relief from pain, anxiety, insomnia, or whatever from weed, then people will spend that money on weed and not on the products made by Big Pharma. Big Pharma doesn’t want that.

  3. Old Church Ladies: My mother, who can be counted on to be nursing a Bloody Mary by the time she’s home from church, is absolutely 100% convinced that once Illinois legalizes pot, she’s going to be run over by a crazed pothead on the roads; that the state’s mental hospitals will be filled to the brim with teenagers suffering from Reefer Madness; and that doctors, airplane pilots, forklift operators, and other high-risk jobs are going to be showing up to work stoned, causing untold injuries to other employees and the general public. And she votes.

Prohibition was, as I understand it, largely started as a side-issue of womens suffrage. As a self-defense measure, they campaigned to have alcohol banned, as it was the leading cause of wife beating. Men would come home, get drunk, and proceed to abuse their wife. Their hope was that by getting rid of alcohol, the abuse would stop.

Prohibition was, presumably, revoked by men.

Does anyone know if there was a decrease in wife beating during the Prohibition?

I think the bottom line is that essentially 0% of the population thinks we should do absolutely nothing to control substances.

We might disagree over how to enforce it or which ones to enforce, but if I ask “Should kindergartners be able to buy cyanide and cocaine at the school lunch room?” then I’m pretty sure we all say no. Once we agree on kindergartners, maybe some of us think it’s OK in high school or college, or maybe just the cocaine is OK and not the cyanide. Or maybe a prescription… but fundamentally, we still agree on a war on drugs, don’t we?

So that’s why it’s so pervasive. We only disagree on the details of implementation, not the general principle.

I’d like to think that if nothing was done to “control substances” then mom and dad (and economics) would prevent kindergarten students from buying drugs in the lunch room.

Bromine and Barium.

Our military-industrial economy is partly dependent on wars of any kind. Without an enemy that occupies territory that we can easily isolate and destroy (WWII-era enemies), we have developed a taste for those enemies that are more vague where our leaders can rally our fears: War on Drugs, and now the War on Terror. Mind you, it should be well known you cannot defeat a lifestyle choice (drugs) or an idea (terror) by waging a war on those things, but as long as contracts for prisons, guard unions, assault equipment, policing gear, guns, ammo, security systems, etc. are dependent on these “wars” continuing, you wont have a lot of the “right” sort of people supporting ending these wars. It’s far too lucrative to be in an endless state of war (which is why there is no War on Poverty, or a War on Racism - no money to be made). If all illicit drugs were somehow suddenly legal, we’d simply invent something else to go to war about where someone can make a buck. We’re Americans - it’s what we do. :frowning:

Even here at the Straight Dope - there is a War on Ignorance (but, unfortunately, we are not getting any lucrative contacts out if it).

It didn’t. It just made “bitch won’t shut her yap” the #1 cause.

No idea. This was way before the time that the government started to really compile metrics on social issues and, even today, it’s a hard one to get accurate so I doubt that anyone could say.

I read this piece a few minutes ago. Color ME surprised!

Fuckin’ Nixon. Every time I decide Reagan or Bush II was the worst asshole president in US history, Tricky Dick rears out of his moldering grave to remind me of what a nightmare he was.

Demographics - old people, religious people, people whose jobs depend on prohibition and politicians that pander to old or religious people.

Ideas - The idea that alcohol isn’t a drug, the idea that drugs are a moral weakness, that drugs are cartoon evil waiting to steal children off the streets, that all recreational drugs are equitable in effect and addictive potential, that moderation is not possible, that drug use is something for which you must immediately apologize if you are in any kind of public role and that you must admit to be a ‘problem’ or else you can’t be trusted in that role (But you should definitely grab a beer in front of a camera to show how insert country here you are! Voters love that!), the idea that legal drugs would destroy the economy by creating a never ending orgy of hedonism, that while on drugs a person does not act in any way according to their sober self. The list can go on.

Institutions - Many politicians and their parties as a whole, many law enforcement agencies, Correctional and legal staff, Criminal organisations, Religious groups. All of these are majority against ending this so called war because it either benefits them directly not to do so or it otherwise somehow offends whatever version of magical thinking they identify with.

Like taxes.