The negative costs of our nation’s “war on drugs” reach into so many aspects our country that they are almost impossible to count. This isn’t just the direct cost of incarceration, enforcement, and the loss of tax revenue, there are also the many less obvious costs such as long-term lower wages for those with drug-related criminal records and, as I recently learned, the destruction of our domestic flower industry.
A few decades ago, when Americans bought flowers, they were likely grown in America by a very large domestic flower industry. This domestic industry has basically been wiped out as a casualty in our fight against drugs. From the Smithsonian Magazine’s look at the rise of the Colombian flower industry:
This growth took place in a country ravaged by political violence for most of the 20th century and by the cocaine trade since the 1980s, and it came with significant help from the United States. To limit coca farming and expand job opportunities in Colombia, the U.S. government in 1991 suspended import duties on Colombian flowers. The results were dramatic, though disastrous for U.S. growers. In 1971, the United States produced 1.2 billion blooms of the major flowers (roses, carnations and chrysanthemums) and imported only 100 million. By 2003, the trade balance had reversed; the United States imported two billion major blooms and grew only 200 million.
In their zealous desire to wage a war on drugs, the policymakers in Washington were more than willing to nearly eliminate an entire domestic industry merely on the hope it would reduce the production of one drug in one country. Even knowing the likely result was that production of that drug would simply move to a neighboring nation.
Both the direct and indirect costs that come out of the war on drugs are so numerous we will probably never be able to fully calculate what this policy has truly cost our country.