Pubdate: Sat, 11 Jun 2011
Source: Pilot, The (NC)
Copyright: 2011 The Pilot LLC
Author: Dg Martin, Hosts UNC-TV's "North Carolina Bookwatch"

'War on Drugs' Has Failed; Is It Time for a New Approach?

One lesson America is reluctant to learn: Wars are easer to declare
than to win.

Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya elude the kind of total
victory our country achieved in World War II.

And we have other declared wars that command national resources even
though finding a strategy for a decisive victory has been elusive.

War on poverty.

War on cancer.

War on crime.

War on terror.

War on AIDS.

These wars confound us because we can find no way to total

No war has been more confounding in that respect than the war on
drugs. Its cost over the last 40 years, some estimate, exceeds a
trillion dollars. Our criminal justice system continues to expend
substantial resources tracking down drug sellers and users. Prisons
are full of the "catch."

Still, no victory is in sight. The use of illegal drugs rages on. Many
otherwise law-abiding Americans "do drugs" or confess that they "did
drugs" in the past. Criminals run the profitable illegal drug
marketing system that supplies the demand of American consumers. The
high street cost of the illegal drugs drives drug addicts into
criminal activities to raise money to buy the drugs.

Our jails are packed with such people.

So is it time to surrender and give up the war on drugs by legalizing
the hallucinogenic drugs that so many Americans are using? Most say
no. One person said that, having seen the devastation worked on the
body of a crack addict, he could never support the legalization of the

Certainly, no North Carolina politician could build a winning platform
with a plank that supported legalization of such drugs. But there are
other voices.

Earlier this month, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, including
members George P. Shultz, former secretary of state; Kofi Annan,
former U.N. secretary general; Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve
chairman; and Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, released a
report that asserted, "The global war on drugs has failed, with
devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world."

The commission's recommendations included this key one: "End the
criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use
drugs but who do no harm to others."

It also moves toward legalization with this suggestion: "Encourage
experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of
drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the
health and security of their citizens."

Public officials are not lining up to agree.

But retired UNC-Chapel Hill economics professor Arthur Benavie's recent
book, "Drugs: America's Holy War," provides support for the commission's

Benavie writes, "Our society would benefit if the various levels of
government controlled, regulated, and taxed all psychoactive drugs,
allowing consumers some type of access. This policy reform would
destroy the market for mob-controlled drug cartels, who currently rake
in enormous tax-free profits in black markets, and who routinely
engage in turf warfare."

The policy choices facing Americans, according to Benavie, are much
like those they faced when they decided to end prohibition of alcohol
sales and consumption. The negative consequences of alcohol addiction
and abuse cannot be overemphasized. But, most often in fighting and
treating those abuses, it is an advantage that the alcohol abuser is
not automatically made a criminal and sent to prison.

And, Benavie reminds us, "Since alcohol prohibition was ended in 1933,
violent, illegal alcohol cartels have disappeared."

It may be political suicide for an elected official to call for the
legalization of mind-altering drugs. But it is time for responsible
citizens to gather the facts and balance the negative and positive
consequences of continuing or ending the war on drugs.

D.G. Martin hosts UNC-TV's "North Carolina Bookwatch," which airs
Fridays at 9:30 p.m and Sundays at 5 p.m. This week's (Friday, June 10,
and Sunday, June 12) guest is Scott Huler, author of "On the Grid: A
Plot of Land, an Average Neighborhood, and the Systems that Make our
World Work."
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.