Pubdate: Sat, 23 Dec 2006
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2006 New Zealand Herald
Author: Paul Thomas
Bookmark: (Opinion)


While the politicians, diplomats, generals and spies engage in an 
increasingly academic debate over whether America is winning, losing 
or indeed has already lost the war in Iraq, the comprehensive nature 
of its defeat in another, more protracted war was rubbed in this week.

According to a report citing United States Government figures, 
marijuana is now America's most valuable cash crop, worth more than 
corn and wheat combined. Weed is bigger than cotton in Alabama, than 
grapes in California and peanuts in Georgia.

Despite billions of dollars and the strenuous efforts of local police 
forces, the FBI and the gigantic Drug Enforcement Agency, marijuana 
production has increased 10-fold over the past 25 years.

In Pentagon-speak, the war on drugs is an irony-rich environment. For 
instance, the losing side refuses to accept that the war was lost 
some time ago and its prolongation achieves nothing beyond turning a 
defeat into a rout. The drug warriors obviously never absorbed the 
cardinal rule of warfare: don't expend resources in a hopeless cause.

The core strategy of prohibition has brought about exactly the 
situation it was intended to prevent: the entrenched and widespread 
use and acceptance of recreational drugs in Western society.

Prohibition was supposed to marginalise and eventually eliminate the 
drugs trade. Instead, by creating an immensely profitable black 
market, it enabled the trade to thrive.

Because drugs are illegal, those who traffic in them pay no tax on 
their earnings, an enormous incentive to invest and expand. It seems 
strange that governments, which use the taxation system as a tool of 
economic management, should persist with policies that confer 
irresistible commercial logic and appeal on an activity of which they 
thoroughly disapprove.

With benefactors like these, who needs Santa Claus?

Because the power structure and society in general are either 
unwilling or unable to recognise defeat, no one has had to carry the 
can for this catastrophic failure of analysis and policy.

This is one key difference between the war on drugs and the war in 
Iraq: in the latter case the guilty men have been identified and are 
being picked off one by one.

Another key difference is the media and public reaction to the 
mounting evidence that the Iraq project has failed. The occupation 
began a mere three years ago yet the overwhelming consensus is that 
the US and Britain should declare defeat and get out, whatever the 
consequences for the people of Iraq and a region that's already 
dangerously close to flashpoint.

The war on drugs, however, will meander on pointlessly and 
counter-productively for years without protesters taking to the 
streets or committees crafting elegant strategies for disengagement, 
i.e. cutting and running.

But there are also striking similarities. Like the war on drugs, the 
war in Iraq has achieved the exact opposite of what was intended.

Instead of becoming the tolerant, secular democracy that would 
transform the Middle East by its benign example, as the 
neo-conservatives fondly imagined, Iraq has collapsed into an 
ungovernable chaos of sectarian barbarism, a model for no one save al 
Qaeda's gleeful nihilists.

Both wars were launched on the basis of two questionable assumptions. 
The first is that people know what's good for them - sobriety and 
clean living on the one hand, secular democracy on the other - and 
will embrace it given half a chance and provided the opportunity or 
temptation to do otherwise is curtailed.

The second is that, if used robustly enough, the instruments of state 
- - prohibition and prosecution on the one hand, military force on the 
other - can create better people and better societies.

There will always be resistance to the legalisation of narcotics, 
particularly hard drugs. Those most likely to abuse drugs and suffer 
the consequences are the young, and as a society we place a high 
value on our children.

As the writer Auberon Waugh observed many years ago, parents are 
hardly going to agree that the children in whom they've invested 
years of care, effort, attention, and money should be free to choose 
oblivion as soon as they leave home.

But this is wishful thinking: children can and sometimes do choose 
oblivion as soon as they leave home or even earlier because the war 
on drugs has failed in its most basic and narrow objective - that of 
making it really, really hard for people to get their hands on dope.

Drugs are now so readily available and with so little legal risk 
attached that the real question is why the majority of children don't 
choose oblivion as soon as they leave home. It's not because they're 
afraid of ending up behind bars; it's because they grasp - thanks in 
part to anti-drug education - that drugs can be bad for you and 
oblivion hasn't got a lot going for it.

Enough of drugs: 'tis the season to be jolly and nothing encourages 
jollity like alcohol, the recreational drug we can guzzle with a 
clear conscience. I wish readers a happy, safe and oblivion-free 
festive season. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake