Methamphetamine use has been gaining popularity nationwide in recent years. According to a survey of 500 sheriff’s offices in 45 states released last week, nearly three-fifths of counties viewed meth as their most pressing drug problem. Despite evidence of a growing epidemic, the Bush administration still unwisely prioritizes marijuana as the focus of its fight against drug use. Every year, the federal government wastes billions of dollars fighting this fairly harmless drug, and the recent report is another telling sign of the continued misallocation of resources in America’s poorly managed war against drugs.

Just prior to the survey’s release, the Office of National Drug Control Policy reaffirmed its commitment to fighting marijuana use as the nation’s most serious drug problem. The office’s argument hinges on the overwhelming number of pot users — 15 million, versus a mere one million for meth. This assessment fails to consider, however, that the effects of meth are often deadly while marijuana is essentially harmless.

As a synthetic stimulant with effects similar to cocaine, meth is highly addictive, and long-term use may cause psychological problems, immune system impairment and even death. It can cause aggressive behavior, and its use has been linked to unprotected and promiscuous sex, resulting in a disproportionate number of users infected with sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. Additionally, meth labs are dangerous, produce toxic waste and have been known to catch fire or explode. Meth-related crimes are overwhelming law enforcement officials, and meth abuse and addiction are greatly contributing the overflow of patients that many drug-focused health centers are now facing.

In contrast, marijuana presents few health risks and has legitimate therapeutic value. The only threat a typical marijuana user poses to society is an insatiable hunger for Doritos. Because of its value as a painkiller and anti-nausea medication, medicinal marijuana has been legalized in many states and cities like Ann Arbor. After two years of hearings on medicinal marijuana, Drug Enforcement Administrative Law Judge Francis Young found in 1988 that marijuana was one of the safest therapeutic drugs available and said, “In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume.”

Considering that the federal government spends over $12 billion fighting drugs each year, it is surprising that the administration remains so out of touch with the reality of drug enforcement. The war on drugs unwisely targets the supply side of drug trafficking and has been ineffective in curbing drug use — while usage has fallen since the late 1970s, recent years have shown leveling off and even increases in use among all age groups. The money spent fighting drugs has been generally misallocated, unless fueling violence abroad and crowding prisons with nonviolent drug offenders can be considered worthy ends.

Providing funds to prevent the abuse of dangerous drugs and to offer treatment for recovering addicts could be worthy uses of federal funds, but the administration’s stance on marijuana is instead reminiscent of the misguided prohibition era, with law enforcement frantically trying to stop the production and sale of a drug that poses comparatively little danger to individuals or society as a whole. Like a stubborn child, the federal government foolishly sticks to its commitment to combating marijuana, demonstrating yet again its failure to properly assess and handle drug abuse.

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