Pubdate: Sun, 16 Sep 2012
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2012 Sun-Times Media, LLC


Last week, the Mexican Navy nabbed one of the world's biggest drug 
kingpins, a man said to be responsible for billions of dollars in 
drugs flowing into the United States and for tens of thousands of deaths.

Score one, you might say, for the war on drugs.

But in a speech at Elmhurst College earlier this month, U.S. Court of 
Appeals Judge Richard Posner, one of our nation's most distinguished 
jurists, called it "absurd" to criminalize the sale or use of 
marijuana and questioned whether even cocaine is all that dangerous.

By and large, Posner said, "the notion of using the criminal law as 
the primary means of dealing with a problem of addiction, of misuse, 
of ingesting dangerous drugs, I don't think that's sensible at all."

So much for the war on drugs.

Our own view is somewhat more cautious. We have long called for the 
decriminalization of marijuana use but stopped short of supporting 
further libertarian measures, not at all confident they would play 
out for the better in the real world.

But we're not at all sure they would not - lord knows, our current 
drug policies are a failure - and it's long past time for a more 
honest debate about this enormously complex issue.

Consider the ordinances now in effect in Chicago and many suburbs 
that treat the possession of a small amount of pot like a traffic 
offense, punishable by nothing more than a fine. That's a sensible 
policy. It is simply crazy to talk about jail time for people who do 
what our last few American presidents have done - smoke a joint, 
maybe even buying and rolling it themselves.

But let's also be honest about the likely unintended consequences: a 
bigger demand for recreational marijuana though it remains illegal to 
produce or sell. And that's manna from heaven for the violent drug cartels.

If you say it is legal to buy and use a drug (as it was legal to buy 
and drink a beer during Prohibition) but say it is illegal to produce 
or sell that drug (as it was illegal to brew and sell beer), then you 
create the demand for an enormous and violent black market led by the 
likes of that Mexican drug kingpin (or, back in the day, Al Capone).

To be sure, the money to be made is so great that we will never 
arrest enough big bosses to stop it. Another boss will step up. Ask 
Frank Nitti, who stepped up in Chicago when Capone went off to 
Alcatraz. The bloody wars among the drug cartels will continue, from 
the Mexican border to the streets of Pilsen.

The bigger the illegal stakes, the greater the violence. Gangs of 
organized criminals in America's cities date back to the 19th 
century, but they pumped up like ballplayers on steroids once 
Prohibition hit in 1920. As one wise guy says to another in 
"Boardwalk Empire," an HBO series about the early days of 
Prohibition, "You can't be a half gangster anymore."

Posner likes to challenge our comfortable certitudes, and we'd be 
smart to listen.

"Personally, I don't think we should have a fraction of the drug laws 
that we have," he told the Elmhurst College students. "I don't know 
how much we know, for example, about whether cocaine is really a 
disabling drug or whether it's something people can take and lead 
more or less normal lives."

If Posner were a politician, he couldn't get elected dogcatcher 
saying stuff like that.

Which is entirely the problem.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom