Pubdate: Fri, 20 Apr 2012
Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Copyright: 2012 Detroit Free Press
Author: Leonard Pitts Jr.
Note: LEONARD PITTS JR. is a columnist for the Miami Herald


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 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

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, 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

* $1 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
cops, 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 else -- 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.

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

What is?

LEONARD PITTS JR. is a columnist for the Miami Herald
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