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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.

“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.

Eastward June 12, 2011 at 03:44 PM
Good article. I could not agree more.
Eastward June 12, 2011 at 03:45 PM
I would legalize all drugs but regulate it heavily with the exception of pot.
Malcolm Kyle June 13, 2011 at 12:05 PM
Some simple facts: * A rather large majority of people will always feel the need to use drugs, such as heroin, opium, nicotine, amphetamines, alcohol, sugar, or caffeine. * Due to Prohibition, the availability of mind-altering drugs has become so universal and unfettered, that in any city of the civilized world, any one of us would be able to procure practically any drug we wish within an hour. * The massive majority of people who use drugs do so recreationally - getting high at the weekend then up for work on a Monday morning. * A small minority of people will always experience drug use as problematic. * Throughout history, the prohibition of any mind-altering substance has always exploded usage rates, overcrowded jails, fueled organized crime, created rampant corruption of law-enforcement, even whole governments, and induced an incalculable amount of suffering and death. * It's not even possible to keep drugs out of prisons, but prohibitionists wish to waste hundreds of billions of our money in an utterly futile attempt to keep them off our streets. * Prohibition kills more people and ruins more lives than the prohibited drugs have ever done. * The United States jails a larger percentage of it's own citizens than any other country in the world, including those run by the worst totalitarian regimes.
Arthur Joel Katz June 13, 2011 at 01:28 PM
Mr. Kyle, The only thing about your comment I didn't like was that I had not said it myself. Thank you for the contribution to a worthy cause. Joel
Jillian Galloway June 13, 2011 at 07:28 PM
Prohibition fuels crime! We need legal adult marijuana sales in supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies for exactly the same reason that we need legal alcohol and tobacco sales - to keep unscrupulous black-market criminals out of our neighborhoods and away from our children. The federal marijuana prohibition empowers drug dealers and the Mexican drug cartels by preventing any form of legal competition to their activities. Instead of protecting children from marijuana, the federal marijuana prohibition creates an environment of zero legal supply amidst massive and unrelenting demand that makes our children LESS safe. Our marijuana prohibition was born during a time of extreme paranoia in this country, it's time to end the paranoia and end the prohibition!
Brandt Hardin June 14, 2011 at 07:32 PM
The War on Drugs failed Billions of dollars ago! This money could have been used for outreach programs to clean up the bad end of drug abuse by providing free HIV testing, free rehab, and clean needles. Harmless drugs like marijuana could be legalized to help boost our damaged economy. Cannabis can provide hemp for countless natural recourses and the tax revenue from sales alone would pull every state in our country out of the red! Vote Teapot, PASS IT, and legalize it. Voice you opinion with the movement and check out my pro-cannabis art at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/01/vote-teapot-2011.html
Ianza Torres June 21, 2011 at 01:28 PM
Excellent article. I couldnt agree more. So glad to hear locals having educated opinions.

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