The DEA was created in 1973 to enforce federal drug laws. The results have been devastating: wasted resources, mass incarceration, racial disparities, civil rights violations and scandal after scandal. Treating drug use as a criminal justice issue instead of a health issue has led to disaster. Yet Congress has rarely scrutinized the agency, its actions or its budget.
The DEA is a pivotal player in the war on drugs, but this war is a failure!
The drug war wastes law enforcement resources by packing prisons with mostly low- and mid-level offenders.
- The Federal Bureau of Prisons is operating at nearly 140% capacity, costing $7 billion a year.
- Half the people locked up are there for nothing more than a drug law violation.
- 2/3 women are there for nonviolent drug offenses. Most are mothers.
The drug war has created staggering racial disparities.
- Black people and Latinos use and sell drugs at similar rates to white people. But they’re disproportionately targeted for arrest and punished more harshly.
- Once convicted, people of color can be legally discriminated against and denied
- Food stamps
- Student loans other forms of public assistance
- Right to vote
- The DEA helped create this disparity. They encouraged racial profiling in the 1980s and pressured local and state law enforcement to adopt their methods.
The DEA is more interested in maintaining failed drug policies than in making decisions based on scientific evidence.
- Despite overwhelming scientific evidence in support of marijuana’s medical benefits, the DEA still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug.
Schedule 1 most dangerous, no currently accepted medical use, high potential for abuse
- They consistently block research efforts, making it impossible for scientists to put marijuana through clinical trials to demonstrate it meets FDA standards for medical safety and efficacy.
In trying to maintain the war on drugs, the DEA is trying to do an impossible job. Unsurprisingly they’ve been plagued by scandals. Here are some you should know about.
All of this is costing taxpayers billions!
The agency’s size and operating budget have swelled since its creation.
Their reach is enormous, but they still haven’t reduced the availability of drugs or the harms associated with them.
Instead, we are left with these drug war results:
- Tens of millions incarcerated
- More than a trillion dollars spent
- Increased violence
- Hundreds of thousands of deaths in Mexico and other countries
- Illegal drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available
So now what?
A Call for Reform
The DEA’s tactics of using arrests, prosecutions, and incarceration, an intrusive undercover work to try to make America « drug-free » should end. It hasn’t worked, and won’t work.
- The DEA should be abolished and folded into the FBI. This would be more efficient and better for public safety. If the DEA is not abolished, then its mandate should change to reflect the goal of violence reduction, not drug reduction.
- Federal drug enforcement should focus on large cases that cross international and state boundaries, with a priority toward violent traffickers and major crime syndicates. All other cases should be left to the states.
- Congress should audit the DEA to review its operations, expenditures and actions.
- Responsibility for determining drug classifications and other health determinations should be completely removed from the DEA and transferred to a health or science agency.