Pubdate: Sat, 19 Nov 2011
Source: North County Times (Escondido, CA)
Copyright: 2011 North County Times
Author: Gwynne Dyer
Note: Gwynne Dyer is an author and freelance journalist based in London.
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Like those generals who used to discover that nuclear weapons were 
not a good thing about 20 minutes after they took off their uniforms 
and started collecting their pensions, we have had a parade of former 
presidents who knew that the war on drugs was a bad thing - but only 
mentioned it after they were already ex-presidents. Now, at last, we 
have one who is saying it out loud while he is still in office.

President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, the country that has 
suffered even more than Mexico from the drug wars, is an honest and 
serious man. He is also very brave, because any political leader who 
advocates the legalization of narcotic drugs will become a prime 
target of the prohibition industry.

He has chosen to do it anyway. "We are basically still thinking 
within the same framework as we have done for the past 40 years," he 
told "The Observer" in a recent interview in Bogota. "A new approach 
should try and take away the violent profit that comes with drug 
trafficking . If that means legalizing (drugs) ... then I will welcome it."

Santos has no intention of becoming a kamikaze politician: "What I 
won't do is become the vanguard of that movement (to legalize drugs) 
because then I will be crucified.

But I would gladly participate in those discussions, because we are 
the country that's still suffering most ... from the high consumption 
in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe in general." There are no such 
discussions, of course.

Santos is being disingenuous about this; he is really trying to start 
a serious international debate on drug legalization, not to join one. 
But the time may be ripe for such a debate, because it is now almost 
universally acknowledged (outside political circles) that the war on 
drugs has been an extremely bloody failure. Twenty years ago Milton 
Friedman, a Nobel Prize winner, the most influential economist of the 
20th century and an icon of the right, said: "If you look at the drug 
war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government 
is to protect the drug cartel."

It is only because the government makes the drugs illegal that the 
criminal cartel has a highly profitable monopoly on meeting the 
demand. Friedman also said: "Government never has any right to 
interfere with an individual for that individual's own good. The case 
for prohibiting drugs is exactly as strong and as weak as the case 
for prohibiting people from overeating. We all know that overeating 
causes more deaths than drugs do."

But there are a quarter-million Americans in jail for possessing or 
selling drugs.

Nobody is in jail for producing, marketing or eating junk food. 
Friedman was right, of course, but 40 years of the war on drugs have 
also shown that arguments based on logic, natural justice or history 
(the obvious parallel with alcohol prohibition in the U.S. in the 
1920s and early '30s) have very little effect on policy in the main 
drug-importing nations.

Many politicians there know that the war on drugs is futile and 
stupid, but the political cost of leaving the herd and saying so out 
loud is too high. The political leaders who are starting to say that 
it's time to end the war and legalize the drugs are almost all in the 
producer nations, where the damage has been far graver than in the 
drug-importing countries.

In practice, therefore, they are almost all Latin American leaders 
- ---- but even there they have waited until they left office to make 
their views known. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox supported the 
U.S.-led war on drugs when he was in office in 2000 to 2006, but more 
recently he has condemned it as an unmitigated disaster. "We should 
consider legalizing the production, sale and distribution of drugs," 
he wrote on his blog. "Radical prohibition strategies have never 
worked." "Legalization does not mean that drugs are good," Fox added, 
"but we have to see it as a strategy to weaken and break the economic 
system that allows cartels to make huge profits, which in turn 
increases their power and capacity to corrupt."

Naturally, Fox only said all that when he was no longer president, 
because otherwise the United States would have punished Mexico 
severely for stepping out of line. In the same spirit, former 
Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of 
Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico made a joint public statement 
that drug prohibition had failed in 2009 ---- after they had all left 
office. But gradually, Latin American leaders are losing their fear 
of Washington. Last year, Mexican President Felipe Calderon called 
for a debate on the legalization of the drug trade, though he 
carefully stressed that he himself was against the idea. (Then why 
did you bring it up, Felipe?) And now President Santos of Colombia 
has come out, still cautiously, to say that he would consider 
legalizing not only marijuana but cocaine. The international 
discussion on legalization that Santos wants will not start tomorrow 
or even next year, but common sense on drugs is finally getting the 
upper hand over ignorance, fear and dogmatism.

And cash-strapped governments will eventually realize how much the 
balance sheet could be improved by taxing legalized drug consumption 
rather than wasting hundreds of billions in a futile attempt to 
reduce consumption.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom