Pubdate: Fri, 20 Apr 2012
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2012 Sun-Times Media, LLC
Author: Steve Huntley


'Legalization is not the answer," President Barack Obama told 
Latin-American leaders complaining that U.S. demand for drugs is 
fueling the appalling violence and rampant corruption from the 
narcotics production and trafficking in their countries. Well, as has 
become painfully obvious, the war on drugs isn't the answer either.

That futile campaign waged predominately in Central and South America 
and in poor neighborhoods in U.S. cities is a failure - and that's 
putting it mildly. If the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the 
never-ending, never-succeeding megaflops that the war on drugs is, we 
would be heading for the exits at breakneck speed or ordering up a 
troop surge and committing the nation to do whatever it takes to win.

Escalation of the war on drugs hasn't worked. When did you ever read 
about drug pushers going straight because they had no marijuana, 
cocaine or heroin to sell? Or that drug rehab clinics were inundated 
by addicts who could no longer afford their habits because the feds 
had so squeezed the supply line that a coke snort cost as much as a 
bottle of Echezeaux Grand Cru 1990, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti ($1,000)?

And no one is advocating escalating the war on the demand side by 
jailing more users. Our prisoners are bursting at the seams with 
non-violent drug offenders.

So, what to do?

"I think," Obama told the Summit of the Americas last week, "it is 
entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in 
place are ones that are doing more harm than good in certain places." 
But he offered no ideas beyond that vague remark.

Republicans have been no better. When former Rep. Dennis Hastert 
visited the Sun-Times editorial board a few years ago (before he 
became House speaker), I brought up the issue. He said no moral 
society legalizes drugs.

Yet how can a moral society stand by and watch the tens of thousands 
of killings by drug cartels terrorizing Mexico in service of a trade 
that goes into the lungs, up the noses and into the veins of millions 
of Americans? And while the gang violence plaguing our inner cities 
is a complex issue that goes beyond the drug trade, there's no 
denying that pushing dope enriches gangs and contributes to the 
senseless killings.

With war failing, why not give peace a chance? By peace, I mean 
venturing into legalization. Marijuana doesn't strike me as 
significantly more hazardous, if at all, than the beer, wine, Scotch 
and vodka that are my recreational drugs of choice. Legalize, 
regulate and tax its production and use.

I understand that legalizing marijuana would not end the illegal 
trade in more serious substances such as heroin or cocaine.

But it would deprive the cartels of serious money. It would save 
lives. Yes, there would be a moral tradeoff in that decriminalizing 
marijuana would bring more pot smoking and addiction, but that's a 
tradeoff we accepted on alcohol by repealing Prohibition to end mob 
bootlegging and violence and to liberate millions of Americans from 
the ranks of aiding and abetting crime. How is respect for the law 
enhanced with laws that millions thumb their noses at?

If legalization fails, we can always go back to prohibition. Alas, 
I'm under no illusion that our society will take a common sense 
approach of trying this anytime soon. We'll stick to the illusion 
that we can win the war on drugs.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom