Why do politicians support the war on drugs (even the ones who know better)?

Bob Scott, a former Captain of the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, spent 15 years in law enforcement working to keep our communities safe, and he used his unique vantage point as an officer to speak out against America’s costly and ineffective war on drugs.

 We know the war on drugs is expensive – 50-60 billion dollars a year to arrest, try and incarcerate millions of nonviolent offenders[1] – and with today’s political environment of massive spending cuts to government funded programs, it may seem counter-intuitive that the billions spent on the war on drugs isn’t called into question.

 We also know the war has failed. Decades ago, when the initiative began, 1.3% of Americans were addicted to drugs. Today addiction rates remain at 1.3% and drugs are cheaper and more prevalent than ever before[2]. So why don’t politicians touting fiscal responsibility cut this wasteful spending?

 "The war on drugs is all about politics,” explains Scott. “Many elected officials know the war has failed, but are afraid to speak up because they don’t want to seem ‘soft on crime’. When I worked in law enforcement I noticed that the individual police officers were often against the war on drugs, but most sheriffs supported it – as least in public. That’s because sheriff’s are elected officials and they say what they think voters want to hear, not always what is right.”

 Bob Scott is involved with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization of law enforcement personnel who oppose prohibition policies. “Our current laws criminalize all aspects of drug use, while ignoring the social and economic benefits of treatment,” says Scott. “Treatment for addiction is more cost effective than incarceration, and it’s better for our communities.”

 Bob Scott supports harm reduction programs because they promote public health and fiscal responsibility. “Syringe exchange programs make economic sense if you think about it,” says Scott. “If people are sharing needles infected with HIV and hepatitis and they don’t have health insurance, tax payers end up with the bill for their treatment.” Studies show that medical treatment for HIV can cost up to $600,000 dollars per person[3], while hepatitis treatment costs from $100,000 to $500,000 per person[4]. Compare that to the cost of a clean syringe – about 97 cents – and harm reduction just makes economic sense.

“I think it’s time to put politics aside and start looking at reality,” says Bob Scott. “We’ve so demonized drug use for political purposes that people are overlooking the social and economic costs. The war on drugs is an idea that sounds good, but it’s not a sound idea.”




“The War at Home,” by Sanho Tree, Institute for Policy Studies. Soujourner’s Magazine. May-June 2003, p20-42.



“Policy is Not a Synonym for Justice,” by US District Court Judge John L. Kane, Chapter 5 in The New Prohibition: Voices of Dissent Challenge the Drug War, Edited by Sheriff Bill Masters, Lonedell, MO: Accurate Press, 2004, p45.



“The Lifetime Cost of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Care in the United States” by Schackman, Bruce, PhD, et al. Medical Care, Vol 44, Num 11, Nov 2006.



Interferon treatment for chronic hepatitis B or C infection: costs and effectiveness” by JB Wong. Department of Medicine, New England Medical Center, Tupper Research Institute, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02111, USA