Pubdate: Wed, 15 Jun 2011
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2011 Sun-Times Media, LLC
Author: Jacob Sullum
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)

Forty years ago this Friday, President Richard Nixon announced that 
"public enemy No. 1 in the United States is drug abuse." Declaring 
that "the problem has assumed the dimensions of a national 
emergency," he asked Congress for money to "wage a new, all-out 
offensive," a crusade he would later call a "global war on the drug menace."

The war on drugs ended in May 2009, when President Obama's newly 
appointed drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, said he planned to stop calling 
it that. Or so Kerlikowske claims. "We certainly ended the drug war 
now almost two years ago," he told Seattle's PBS station last March, 
"in the first interview that I did." If you watch the exchange on 
YouTube, you can see he said this with a straight face.

In reality, of course, Richard Nixon did not start the war on drugs, 
and Barack Obama, who in 2004 called it "an utter failure," did not 
end it. The war on drugs will continue as long as the government 
insists on getting between people and the intoxicants they want. And 
while it is heartening to hear a growing chorus of prominent critics 
decry the enormous collateral damage caused by this policy, few seem 
prepared to give peace a chance by renouncing the use of force to 
impose arbitrary pharmacological preferences.

"The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences 
for individuals and societies around the world," a recent report from 
the Global Commission on Drug Policy concludes. "Political leaders 
and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly 
what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence 
overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve 
the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be 
won." Each year that we fail to face this reality, the report says, 
"billions of dollars are wasted on ineffective programs," "millions 
of citizens are sent to prison unnecessarily," and "hundreds of 
thousands of people die from preventable overdoses and diseases."

This strong criticism of the status quo was endorsed by the three 
former Latin American presidents who organized the commission -- 
Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, and 
Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico -- and 16 other notable names, including 
former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Federal Reserve 
Chairman Paul Volcker, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, former 
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, former NATO Secretary General 
Javier Solana, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, and Virgin Group 
founder Richard Branson.

The alternatives suggested by the commission are less impressive. The 
report calls for easing up on drug users and low-level participants 
in the drug trade while cracking down on "violent criminal 
organizations." But it is prohibition that enriches and empowers such 
organizations while encouraging them to be violent -- a point the 
commission acknowledges. As a new report from Law Enforcement Against 
Prohibition notes regarding the escalating violence that has left 
some 40,000 people dead since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began 
an anti-drug crackdown in 2006, "this is a cycle that cannot and will 
not end until prohibition itself ends."

It is also prohibition that breeds official corruption, makes drug 
use more dangerous than it would otherwise be, and undermines civil 
liberties -- all problems the commission highlights. Furthermore, a 
policy of decriminalizing possession while maintaining the bans on 
production and sale is morally incoherent: If drug use itself is not 
worthy of punishment, why should people go to prison merely for 
helping others commit this noncrime?

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Shultz and Volcker liken 
the war on drugs to alcohol prohibition, approvingly quote Milton 
Friedman's argument that "illegality creates obscene profits that 
finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords" and "leads to the 
corruption of law enforcement officials," and then recoil in horror 
from the logical conclusion, saying "we do not support the simple 
legalization of all drugs." If illegality is the problem, legality is 
the solution.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom