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The War on Drugs Has Been Lost

It's time to legalize drugs for adults and put criminals out of business.

Editor's Note: This column initially appeared in the on June 12. 

“Public safety is the single most important mission for government, and illegal drugs are the number one threat to public safety in Pennsylvania.” So says our esteemed Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda L. Kelley on her website. Or maybe the statement was left over by the former Attorney General, who is now our Governor.

In either event, the statement is wrong. Stupidity is the greatest threat to public safety. For the information of all concerned, the War on Drugs has been lost.

Don’t take ye olde columnist’s word for it, I merely quote the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Members include all sorts of distinguished people such as Kofi Annan, former head of the UN; Richard Branson, the British billionaire; George P. Schultz, our former Secretary of State; and former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.

Neither the Global Commission on Drug Policy nor I maintain that what we usually call illegal drugs (marijuana, heroin, cocaine, etc.) are good for you, although marijuana has been found to have some legitimate medical uses. Rather, the situation is the same now with respect to drugs as it was in the 1920s when Prohibition made liquor, wine and beer illegal. Then the resulting crime overcame law enforcement and corrupted society.

In 1933 the 21st Amendment was passed repealing the 18th (the amendment that allowed the national government to impose Prohibition). Sanity more or less returned. It was not that alcoholic beverages were found to be good for you (although some taken in moderation are). Rather, the majority of Americans realized that prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States was, to put it mildly, impractical and caused more problems than doing so purported to solve.

So let it be said of drugs. Fox News reports that the drug laws have cost America one trillion dollars over the last 40 years, not to mention hundreds of thousands of lives. It reported that "even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the (present drug) strategy hasn’t worked."

"In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerikowskie said of the War on Drugs in speaking to the Associated Press. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified." American Action, which tracks such things, reports that the U.S. in 2011 spends $1,716.77 per second fighting drugs. (The 40 years, by the way, refers to the fact that President Nixon announced the start of the War on Drugs 40 years ago.)

Rarely does a politician tell us the truth about drugs. President Obama did take a brave stand. He said, again according to Fox, that he promised to “reduce drug use and the great danger it causes with a new national policy that treats drug use more as a public health issue and focus on prevention and treatment.” How would he do that? He didn’t say.

Here is a plan:  

  1. Take the police out of drug enforcement entirely, with the one exception noted below.
  2. Legalize marijuana entirely. Sure it makes users high, but so does alcohol. 
  3. All other presently illegal drugs should be sold to the public at pharmacies.  The prices should be reasonably low, the point being to undercut prices now charged by drug syndicates. What keeps these criminals in business are the high prices that users pay. If the prices were low at pharmacies, there would be no incentive for criminals to be involved in the drug business, nor would they employ pushers, whose business it is to encourage drug use, especially among young people.
  4. The government should run campaigns designed to point out the dangers of drug use, much as it has pointed out the dangers of smoking tobacco. 
  5. The sale and/or use of formerly illegal drugs (including marijuana) to children under the age of 18 should be criminalized, much as the sale of alcohol to children is presently criminalized. This is the one area in which I think the police should have a role. Selling drugs to minors should be a serious crime. However, children who use drugs should not be incarcerated, but rather treated for addiction at state-sponsored clinics if indeed they are addicted.

The advantage of this plan is that the whole problem will be humanized, criminals will be put out of business, the cost of enforcement will be lessened substantially, our prison population will be reduced sharply, official corruption will be less tempting, and we will be able to concentrate on wars that can be won, like the wars on cancer, stroke and diabetes, to name just a few.

Malcolm Kyle June 20, 2011 at 06:30 PM
If you are a Prohibitionist then you owe us answers to the following questions: #1. Why do you rejoice at the fact that we have all been stripped of our 4th amendment rights and are now totally subordinate to a corporatized, despotic government with a heavily armed and corrupt, militarized police force whose often deadly intrusions into our homes and lives are condoned by an equally corrupt and spineless judiciary? #2. Why do you wish to continue to spend $50 billion a year to prosecute and cage your fellow citizens for choosing drugs which are not more dangerous than those of which you yourself use and approve of such as alcohol and tobacco? #3. Do you honestly expect the rest of us to look on passively while you waste another trillion dollars on this ruinously expensive garbage policy? #4. Why are your waging war on your own family, friends and neighbors? #5. Why are you so complacent with the fact that our once 'free & proud' nation now has the largest percentage of it's citizenry incarcerated than any other on the entire planet? #6. Why are you helping to fuel a budget crisis to the point of closing hospitals, schools and libraries? #7. Why do you rejoice at wasting precious resources on prohibition related undercover work while rapists and murderers walk free, while additionally, many cases involving murder and rape do not even get taken to trial because law enforcement priorities are subverted by your beloved failed and dangerous policy?
seabourne June 20, 2011 at 10:41 PM
Tell your Congressional Representatives - It is time to "Change the Schedule of Cannabis, Cannabis Laws, and Drug Czar Laws" Read and Sign the petition at http://www.change.org/petitions/change-the-schedule-of-cannabis-cannabis-laws-and-drug-czar-laws After you sign the petition, email your friendlies, share on facebook, or twitter from the petition page. If you have a website grab the widget so your visitors can sign it without leaving your website. This petition uses laws passed by Congress to point out that by their laws, the laws must change.
Aaron Smith April 25, 2012 at 09:43 PM
I agree that the War on Drugs has not done ANYTHING to improve public safety. If anything, it's made it far worse. One only has to look to alcohol prohibition in the 1920s to understand that making drugs illegal only turns people into criminals - it doesn't reduce the demand for drugs. Once a substance becomes legal, it simply becomes profitable for violent gangs to traffic it. Legitimate businesspeople can't do it, so the gangs become brutal as they fight for territory; the violence often spills over into innocent communities. http://recoveryfirst.org/join-recovery-first-on-the-war-on-drugs.html/
David M. May 28, 2012 at 02:39 PM
I completely agree - the drug "war" was lost even before it was ever "declared" by Nixon in 1970. The US federal government started to regulate marijuana and opiates back in 1936, and they met with little success even then. Nixon did actually intend for addicts to get treatment over prison, but the creation of the DEA nullified that. To add to Malcolm's list - I think prohibitionists need to explain why certain drugs should be illegal, while prescription drugs and ALCOHOL remain completely legal. It makes absolutely no sense, and I think the situation just shows that people who want to get high - will. Drug prohibition just hurts public safety. http://www.squidoo.com/inpatient-rehab-what-really-happens-during-drug-treatment

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