Pubdate: Wed, 31 Jul 2002
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Timothy Lynch, Paul M. Bischke, Michael Kerner
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


Our new drug czar, John Walters, is very concerned about the mounting 
opposition to the federal government's war on drugs ("Don't Legalize 
Drugs," editorial page, July 19). He notes that several European nations, 
such as Portugal and Britain, have recently liberalized their drug laws. 
But we should welcome, not fear, these developments.

It is interesting to note how markedly the drug policy debate has changed 
over the past 10 years. During the 1980s, Nancy Reagan said casual drug 
users were accomplices to murder. William Bennett made headlines with talk 
of executing drug dealers. No one speaks in those terms today. Nowadays, 
drug warriors like to give speeches about drug courts and mandatory 
treatment programs. Despite the softer tone, however, police agents 
continue to wiretap and raid and arrest hundreds of thousands of people. 
Most notably, there has been no retreat from the proposition that drug 
users are criminals who must be punished. Only a lamentable lack of jail 
space prevents Mr. Walters from ordering a more widespread crackdown on 
people who choose to ingest marijuana, steroids or cocaine.

Drug abuse is clearly a problem, but criminalization is a counterproductive 
approach to the issue. The war drives users underground, enriches gangster 
organizations and distracts the police from the fight against violent 
criminals. The legal ban has also spawned bloody turf battles on our city 
streets. And just about everyone who lives outside of the beltway now 
recognizes that billions of dollars have been squandered in a futile 
attempt to keep drugs from entering the country. The debate is now shifting 
to alternative approaches -- and Mr. Walters is scrambling to restore 
confidence in the war.

The dilemma for Mr. Walters is that fewer and fewer people believe that 
hiring more Customs inspectors, shooting down more planes in Latin America, 
or sending more SWAT teams into rave parties is the smart way to address 
the problems associated with drug abuse. The drug war has been given a 
chance to work, but it has failed.

Timothy Lynch, Director, Project on Criminal Justice, Cato Institute, 


Prohibition's Consequences

After 87 years of prohibition, disreputable pleasure drugs remain in wide 
use and distribution. History proves that a "drug-free" society, or 
anything even close to it, is impossible. We can only choose how these 
drugs will be distributed. Yet drug czar John Walters merely reiterates the 
government's prohibitionist orthodoxy: that criminal markets should remain 
the only means of their distribution.

Prohibition has three kinds of unintended consequences: (1) criminal 
markets; (2) marginalization of users, and (3) deception-related 
consequences, where governments deceive citizens to quell consensual 
transactions and to dissuade use (by exaggerating harm and denying the harm 
of government actions), pushing toward totalistic and corrupt government.

Mr. Walters laments Britain's recent easing of marijuana-use penalties, 
their modified prohibition system. Yes, happily, Britain, following most 
other European nations, is now acting on the well-documented evidence that 
punishing users does no overall social good. Marginalization is 
counterproductive in public-health terms. And Britain has never stooped to 
the U.S. level of drug-related government deception.

Paul M. Bischke, Drug Policy Reform Group of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn.


No on All Counts

Is there any chance of success in eliminating drugs from our society, given 
that they cannot even be kept out of prisons?

Is there any constitutional authority for the federal government to ban 
drugs, given the 10th Amendment?

Is there even the slightest moral justification to deny sick people a 
medicine that can help them so that we do not "send the wrong message"? 
What wrong message would that be?

Hundreds of thousands of people are arrested each year for mere possession 
or sale of marijuana. What is the social value of that? Is it worth the 
social cost of the broken families and lost productivity of all those people?

Is it appropriate for the government to teach our kids that marijuana is as 
bad as heroin and cocaine? They soon note that their friends smoke 
marijuana without consequence and naturally assume that you are lying to 
them about the harder drugs. Your lie encourages use of the harder drugs. 
Are your lies socially useful?

The only way that drugs are different from alcohol is that alcohol is more 
dangerous. Why wouldn't a regime of treating drugs like alcohol be 
preferable than the current drug war nightmare, where shooting civilian 
planes out of the sky on suspicion is again to be policy.

Michael Kerner, Lenexa, Kan.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager