Pubdate: Wed, 18 Apr 2012
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2012 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Leonard Pitts Jr.


If President Barack Obama had a son, he would look like Trayvon
Martin. So the president famously said.

And the president's son would thereby find himself at significantly
greater risk of running afoul of the so-called "war on drugs" than,
say, a son of George W. Bush. Depending on what state he lived in, a
Trayvon Obama might be 57 times more likely than a Trayvon Bush to be
imprisoned on drug charges.

This is not because he would be 57 times more likely to commit a drug
crime. To the contrary: White American men commit the vast majority of
the nation's drug crimes, but African-American men do the vast
majority of the nation's drug time. It is a nakedly racial disparity
that should leave the U.S. Department of "Justice" embarrassed to call
itself by that name. So it is difficult to be anything but
disappointed at Obama's recent declaration at a summit in Colombia
that "legalization is not the answer" to the international drug
problem. He argued that drug dealers might come to "dominate certain
countries if they were allowed to operate legally without any
constraint." This dominance, he said, "could be just as corrupting if
not more corrupting than the status quo."

One wonders if the president forgot to engage brain before operating
mouth. Dealers might "dominate certain countries"? Has Obama never
heard of Mexico, that country on our southern border where drug
dealers operate as a virtual shadow government in

some areas? Is he unfamiliar with Colombia -- his host nation --
where, for years, the government battled a drug cartel brutal and
brazen enough to attack the Supreme Court and assassinate the attorney
general? That scenario Obama warns against actually came to pass a
long time ago.

Similarly, it is a mystery how the manufacture and sale of a legal
product could be "just as corrupting if not more corrupting than the
status quo." How could that be, given that there would no longer be a
need for drug merchants to bribe judges, politicians and police for
protection? What reason is there to believe a legal market in drugs
would be any more prone to corruption than the legal markets in
cigarettes and alcohol? Or, popcorn and chocolate?

The president's reasoning is about as sturdy as a cardboard box in a
monsoon. Even he must know -- who can still deny? -- that the drug war
has failed. When it comes to quantifying that failure, several numbers
are stark and edifying: 41: That's how many years the "war" has raged.
40 million-plus: That's how many Americans have been arrested. $1
trillion-plus. That's the cost in dollars. 2,800: That's the
percentage by which drug use has risen. 1.3: That's the percentage of
Americans who were drug addicted in 1914. 1.3: That's the percentage
of Americans who are drug addicted now.

The numbers come from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of
police officers, judges, DEA agents and other drug warriors who are
demanding an end to the drug war. Their statistics call to mind an old
axiom: The definition of crazy is to continue doing the same thing but
expecting a different result.

That said, it is not difficult to understand why the president -- or
anyone -- might flinch at the notion of legalizing drugs. It is a big,
revolutionary idea, an idea that would change the way things have been
done since forever. If someone feels a need to pause before crossing
that line, that's understandable.

But let none of us do as Obama did -- hide behind a specious argument
that offers no solution, no way forward and, most critically, no leadership.

Drug legalization is not the answer? OK, Mr. President, fair enough.
What is?
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