What We Got Wrong in the War on Drugs

The War on Drugs is effectively over. Drugs won. This essay addresses some of the mistakes we made in that futile effort. Allowing racism to motivate action and impede reform was a primary error. So was failing to understand that narcotics crime is simply different than other types of criminalized behavior in several fundamental ways. In whole, we largely addressed the narcotics trade as a moral failing rather than a market—and never got around to recognizing the size and shape of that market or to using market forces to control it. Ronald Reagan compared the War on Drugs to the Battle of Verdun, and he was right: fortunes were spent, many lives were lost, and nothing really changed.

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