Pubdate: Mon, 27 Jun 2011
Source: Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)
Copyright: 2011 The Virginian-Pilot


For all the talk of government inefficiency, wasteful spending and
ruinous debt, the political class continues to dismiss any effort to
reform a failed, decades-old campaign: the war on drugs.

That point was highlighted this month in a report by the Global
Commission on Drug Policy, which noted billions of dollars were being
funneled into a circular system that jailed thousands of low-level
offenders but failed to get drugs off the street.

"Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking
organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other
sources and traffickers."

The commission, comprising a who's who of dignitaries, heads of state
and power brokers, including three from the U.S., offered biting
criticism of the punitive approach.

As The Associated Press reported last year, the federal government has
spent $1 trillion during the past four decades on drug enforcement
efforts. What is there to show for it? More drug users, more
overdoses, more Americans in jail, more law enforcement officers
killed or wounded in the line of duty.

Commission members recommended a dramatic paradigm shift by diverting
the billions that fund these futile measures into treatment, education
and regulatory programs aimed at wiping out the underground market for
illicit substances. And it chastised government officials in the U.S.
and elsewhere for refusing to consider addressing the financial and
physiological factors that perpetuate the drug trade.

"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," the commission wrote.

Fortunately, at least at the state level, those conversations have
begun. Sixteen states, and Washington, D.C., already have decided to
legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. And as the national political
debate swirls around wasteful spending and the federal budget deficit,
more members of Congress are starting to weigh whether the war on
drugs is contributing to that waste.

This week, House Reps. Ron Paul, a Texas Republican, and Barney Frank,
a Massachusetts Democrat, joined to introduce a bill that would permit
states to decide whether people can grow, use or sell marijuana. The
bill also would restrict federal enforcement to interstate and
international smuggling.

Like so many previous proposals rejected in state Capitols, this
congressional effort is likely to fail. But if it does, it shouldn't
happen before Congress and the public have a chance to examine its
strengths and weaknesses, to determine whether it saves money and
lives and reduces other ills associated with the illicit drug trade.

The bar for the past 40 years has been awfully low. It's time to find
a better way. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.