Pubdate: Fri, 11 Sep 2009
Source: London Free Press (CN ON)
Page: A8
Copyright: 2009 The London Free Press
Author: Gwynne Dyer


It's too early to say there is a general revolt against the "war on
drugs" that the United States has been waging for the past 39 years,
but something significant is happening. European countries have been
quietly defecting from the war for years, decriminalizing personal
consumption of some or all of the banned drugs in order to minimize
harm to their own people, but it's different when countries like
Argentina and Mexico do it.

Latin American countries are much more in the firing line. The United
States can hurt them a lot if it is angered by their actions, and it
has a long history of doing just that. But from Argentina to Mexico,
they are fed up to the back teeth with the violent and dogmatic U.S.
policy on drugs, and they are starting to do something about it.

In mid-August, the Mexican government declared it will no longer be a
punishable offence to possess up to half a gram of cocaine (about four
lines), five grams of marijuana (around four joints), 50 milligrams of
heroin or 40 mg of methamphetamine.

At the end of August, Argentina's supreme court did something even
bolder: it ruled that, under the Argentine constitution, "Each adult
is free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the
state" and dismissed a case against youths who had been arrested for
possessing a few joints.

In an ideal world, this ruling would have a powerful resonance in the
United States, whose constitution also restricts the right of the
federal government to meddle in citizens' private affairs.

A million Americans a year go to jail for "crimes" that hurt nobody
but themselves. A vast criminal empire has grown up to service the
American demand for drugs. Over the decades, hundreds of thousands of
people have been killed in the turf wars between the gangs, the
police-dealer shoot-outs, and the daily thousands of muggings and
burglaries committed by addicts trying to raise money to pay the
hugely inflated prices that prohibition makes possible.

Most users of illegal drugs are not addicts, let alone dangerous
criminals. Legalization and regulation, on the pattern of alcohol and
tobacco, would avoid thousands of violent deaths each month and
millions of needlessly ruined lives each year, although psychoactive
drug use would still take its toll on the vulnerable and the unlucky,
just as alcohol and tobacco do.

But there is little chance American voters will choose to end this
long war any time soon, even though its casualties far exceed those on
any other American war since 1945. The "war on drugs" will not end in
the United States until a very different generation comes to power.

Elsewhere, however, it is coming to an end much sooner, and one can
imagine a time when the job of the history books will be to explain
how this berserk aberration ever came about. A large part of the
explanation will then focus on the man who started the war, Richard

The famous Nixon tapes recorded almost every word of his presidency.
It turns out he started the war on drugs because he believed they were
a Jewish plot. The tapes also show he believed homosexuals, Communists
and Roman Catholics were plotting to undermine America by pushing
drugs at it.

The reason for this 39-year war, in other words, is Nixon believed he
was facing a "Jewhomo-doper-Commie-shrink-lefty-pope" conspiracy, as
Washington Post writer Gene Weingarten put it in a gloriously deadpan
article in 2002. But that is just plain wrong. As subsequent
developments have shown, it is actually a