Pubdate: Fri, 20 Apr 2012
Source: Sun Herald (MS)
Copyright: 2012, The Sun Herald
Author: Leonard Pitts, Jr.


If President 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 men commit the vast majority of the 
nation's drug crimes, but black men do the vast majority of the 
nation's drug time. It is a nakedly racial disparity that should 
leave the "Justice" Department embarrassed to call itself by that name.

So it is difficult to be anything but disappointed at President 
Obama's recent declaration at a summit in Colombia that "legalization 
is not the answer" to the international drug problem. The president 
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, where drug dealers operate as a virtual shadow government in 
some areas? Is he unfamiliar with Colombia, 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:

Forty-one. That's how many years the "War" has raged. Forty 
million-plus. That's how many Americans have been arrested. One 
trillion-plus. That's the cost. Two thousand, eight hundred. That's 
the percentage by which drug use has risen. One-point-three. That's 
the percentage of Americans who were drug addicted in 1914. 
One-point-three. That's the percentage of Americans who are drug addicted now.

The numbers come from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of 
drug warriors 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 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 the president did -- hide behind a specious 
argument that offers no solution, no way forward and, most 
critically, no leadership. Legalization is not the answer? OK, Mr. 
President, fair enough. What is?

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a Washington-based columnist for the Miami 
Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132. Email,  ---
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