Revisiting the war on drugs

September 4, 2012 | By | 5 Replies More

At Huffpo, Richard Branson has recently spoken out on the inanity of the war on drugs:

With states as our innovators we know what we need to do on drug reform. Which is good, because the cost of the alternatives has gotten completely out of hand. The U.S. currently spends no less than $51 billion — per year — on the war on drugs. . . . It’s a horribly depressing number when you think how far even a fraction of that money would have gone if invested in prevention and rehabilitation efforts. With so much rhetoric on the economy in this election year, it is startling that no one has looked to drug reform to unlock resources.

A large portion of the money spent on the war on drugs goes toward criminalization. I recently had the privilege of spending time with Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative. I was shocked when he pointed out that back in the 1970s there were only 300,000 people in prison in the U.S.! Forty years later, the number of people incarcerated — 2.3 million — is greater than the population of Houston, Texas. He attributes much of the increase to American drug policy, with minorities taking the hardest hit.


Category: Drug laws

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    According to the NY Times (, the U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population but almost 25% of the world’s prisoners. Much of that imbalance is due to the so-called “war” on drugs — namely, the mandatory sentencing laws enacted by self-defined “tough on crime” lawmakers. These laws impose severe prison times for even relatively small drug violations. Why? The ostensible reason is to deter people from making, using or selling drugs, but the failure of these laws to do so suggests another reason. In many states, felons (i.e., people convicted of drug crimes) are denied the right to vote. So, harsh prison sentences for drug crimes is a way to disenfranchise people who probably wouldn’t vote for conservative candidates.

  2. xxx says:

    “So, harsh prison sentences for drug crimes is a way to disenfranchise people who probably wouldn’t vote for conservative candidates.”

    May we assume you have data that quantifies what % of non-convicted drug users actually vote, and of that %, what % vote for liberal candidates? Or are you just annoyingly spouting off without knowing what you are talking about, as is your usual custom?

  3. Niklaus Pfirsig says:


    A cursory search turned up no hard numbers of political affiliation among the incarcerated population in the US.
    But some interests facets should be noted:

    Most states strip felons of their right to vote, permanently. Some states allow former felons to re-register as voters after completion of sentence and parole, fewer still allow parolees and probationary criminals to vote.

    Two states, Maine and Vermont allow prisoners to vote.

    Another factor is that most states include the prison population count when calculating district populations during redistricting. This leads to “constituent importation” as a factor in gerrymandering. (FYI, Gerrymandering is the strategic redistricting by a party in power to maximize electoral votes for their party.) Gerrymandering works by drawing district boundaries in a way that creates more,but smaller (by population) districts in areas that favor your side, while creating larger (in population), but fewer districts that traditionally support your opposition.

  4. xxx says:

    “A cursory search turned up no hard numbers of political affiliation among the incarcerated population in the US.”

    In other words, your earlier comment wasn’t based upon anything.

    You also ignore the question as to the % of non-convicted drug users who vote at all.

    I don’t get why people need to bloviate.

  5. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    bloviate: v- to speak pompously…

    Isn’t it just a wee bit pompous to refer to an earlier comment that I did not make??

    Also, should you care to notice, I added a pair of links to scholarly articles supporting my comment.

    Do you presume that people in prison never voted before they were incarcerated? Perhaps someone should look into the political leanings of our sizable prison population.

    So, what proof do you have that the predominately low income current and former disenfranchised felons comprise the same political balance as the non felon population?

    FWIW… my father was convicted and served time for allegedly stealing someone’s refund check from the mail. He was sentenced to 1 year in a federal prison, and was release after 6 months for good behavior. That happened in in the mid 70’s. He died from cancer in 2011. For those 35+ years, he was no longer acceptable as a voter.
    During his life, he gave freely of his time and labor to help those in need, was a decorated Korean war veteran, at various times a small business owner, a government employee, a carpenter, a factory worker and an auto mechanic.
    His short time in prison was served along side some of the Watergate conspirators. Of G. Gordon Liddy, who he met in prison ( and incidentally, did not like) he once said “He’s a very smart man, but he still got caught.”

    After prison, he could never find a really well paying job, could not get approved for a loan, and often worked as a day laborer. He was regarded at best as a third class citizen.

    While Liddy made a fortune in politics, my father was not even afforded the basic right of citizenship: The right to vote.

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