Monday, February 27, 2006

The end is near...

Well it's official. Don't polish up your bongs just yet but the drug war is over. The Wall Street Journal just posted an editorial calling it a failure and according to my dear friend Jules Siegel, that is the final arbiter of any political issue. He's maintained through the years that contrary to popular opinion, the Vietnam War didn't end because Walter Cronkite said it was wrong, rather it ended when the WSJ editorialized against it. From his mouth to G-d's ears.

Granted this is hardly a vicious condemnation but for a paper as conservative as WSJ, I think it's very strong. For instance:
Economist Milton Friedman predicted in Newsweek nearly 34 years ago that Richard Nixon's ambitious "global war against drugs" would be a failure. Much evidence today suggests that he was right. But the war rages on with little mainstream challenge of its basic weapon, prohibition. [...]

The drug war has become costly, with some $50 billion in direct outlays by all levels of government, and much higher indirect costs, such as the expanded prison system to house half a million drug-law offenders and the burdens on the court system. Civil rights sometimes are infringed. One sharply rising expense is for efforts to interdict illegal drug shipments into the U.S., which is budgeted at $1.4 billion this fiscal year, up 41% from two years ago.

That reflects government's tendency to throw more money at a program that isn't working. Not only have the various efforts not stopped the flow but they have begun to create friction with countries the U.S. would prefer to have as friends.
Needless to say, the author doesn't get it completely right but he's asking the right questions.
So what's the alternative? An army of government employees now makes a living from the drug laws and has a rather conflictive interest in claiming both that the drug laws are working and that more money is needed. The challenge is issued: Do you favor legalization? In fact, most drugs are legal, including alcohol, tobacco and coffee and the great array of modern, life-saving drugs administered by doctors. To be precise, the question should be do you favor legalization or decriminalization of the sale and use of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines?

A large percentage of Americans will probably say no, mainly because they are law-abiding people who maintain high moral and ethical standards and don't want to surrender to a small minority that flouts the laws, whether in the ghettos of Washington D.C. or Beverly Hills salons. The concern about damaging society's fabric is legitimate. But another question needs to be asked: Is that fabric being damaged now?
Any reasonable inquiry would have to lead to answering the last question in the affirmative.

[hat tip Jules Siegel]


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