The failed “War on drugs”

The Washington Post released an article today titled ‘Lost cause.’ 

When the President of the United States in the 1970’s, Richard Nixon, coined the term, he couldn’t have imagined this policy would have a direct harmful effect in countries across Latin America. In country after country, and especially in Colombia and Mexico, the so-called “War on drugs” has justified disastrous policies in Latin America, caused a harmful effect in these societies, and failed to curb down the use of recreational drugs in the US and worldwide. 

The burden of these policies in Colombia, where I live, is everywhere. Filled with homelessness in every corner, Colombian cities are the novel home of more than 7 million migrants, farmers of small crops forced to live on cities and indigenous population dragged out of their lands. Most of these people lived out of farming their ‘rancho’, their homes, where illegal drug money fueled political violence. Despite the peace accord signed by the Nobel laurate Juan Manuel Santos put an end to political violence caused by the FARC guerrillas, violence remained. 

A good example of how the “War on drugs” is having a harmful effect across society is in Buenaventura, Colombia. A port in the pacific, this small town is one of the most important corridors of illegal drugs trade in the country. This city is also one of the most violent cities in the country, where people live fearing the drug lord. 


How do you stop human self-harm?

Embedded in the policies of the “War on drugs” is the assumption that human cannot self-harm, and anything that harm should be prohibited. We harm ourselves every day, eating food bad to our health, not taking care of ourselves, drinking alcohol excessively. Diabetes is the seventh cause of death in the US, with 85 thousand annual deaths, while and excessive alcohol use caused 95 thousand deaths in 2015.

This policy debate has been also justified in the community effect that drugs may have on children and teenagers. But alcohol and other self-harm activities evidence that drugs can be regulated to not cause an effect in these vulnerable populations. 

The political support of the “War on drugs” among conservatives is contradictory. On one side, the conservative political ideology was marked on the Reagan administration about resisting the imposition of government policies on the individual. On the other side, the support of a “War on drugs” to regulate self-harm goes against the principal orthodoxy, albeit unfulfilled by Trump, of the Republican Party in the US. Fighting drugs that self-harm is as futile and useful as fighting the use of sugar, alcohol, driving and texting, or other activities where we harm ourselves. In a sense, fighting drugs is as useful as communism, where the state regulates the wellbeing of their population.


The “War on drugs” is a prime example of how policies we sanction can have a harmful effect across societies. The failed policies of this war led to destruction, violence, and a negative effect on societies across the globe. As much as the Washington Post set of articles show the bleak picture of violence and destruction of these policies, the effects are much greater. Just as a reminder and to give an idea of the destruction, in 1985 guerrillas funded by Pablo Escobar entered the Colombian Supreme Court and murdered most on their sight.

This Post article is a call to engage more in political discourse that helps our societies and highlight the importance of leading on what matters.