Pubdate: Sun, 11 Nov 2012
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2012 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Author: A. Barton Hinkle


Seeking to scare the public away from legalizing the stuff, the Obama 
administration notes that in 2009, marijuana was "involved in" 
376,000 emergency-room visits nationwide. Be afraid, be very afraid: 
This represents less than 0.3 of 1 percent of all ER visits, and 3.3 
million fewer visits than are caused annually by recreational sports. 
Figures such as those help explain why voters in Washington and 
Colorado were not frightened, and passed referenda decriminalizing pot.

Oregon rejected a similar measure, just as California did two years 
ago. But the tide may be turning. On Tuesday, five Michigan cities 
(Detroit, Flint, Ypsilanti, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo) and 
Burlington, Vt., also passed measures relaxing pot laws. Eighteen 
states and the District of Columbia have approved marijuana for medical use.

Americans are of two minds - at least - about what people should be 
allowed to put in their bodies. Paternalists in New York; Cambridge, 
Mass.; Richmond, Calif.; and the offices of groups such as the Center 
for Science in the Public Interest think government should restrict 
your soft-drink intake. Tobacco smokers are the new Untouchables. But 
marijuana has a countercultural vibe and is not sold by huge 
multinational corporations- at least not legal ones, at least not 
yet. So even though it is bad for you, many progressives do not see 
much wrong with it.

Illegal multinationals do sell pot, however-quite a bit of it - and 
it is surprising that Mexican drug cartels did not create super-PACs 
to lobby against legalization this fall. According to one Mexican 
think tank, legalizing pot in all three states on Tuesday would have 
"cut the cartels' income by... about 23 percent." A RAND analysis 
reached a similar conclusion about California's pot proposition two years ago.

Mexican drug lords aren't the only ones who would see their finances 
affected. Three decades ago, one incarcerated person out of 10 was a 
nonviolent drug offender. The ratio is now up to one in four. 
Marijuana offenders make up only a slice of that slice, yet Harvard 
economist Jeffrey Miron still estimates that legalizing the wacky 
weed would save nearly $9 billion a year. Legalizing all drugs would 
save $41 billion.

But at least that money is well-spent, right? Er, um.... Since 2005, 
federal spending on the war on drugs has risen 25 percent in nominal 
terms. Also since 2005, the rate of illegal drug use has risen 10 
percent. Marijuana use "is the highest it has been in eight years," 
the Obama administration noted last year.

Little wonder, then, that U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske admitted two 
years ago the drug war he spearheads "has not been successful." Or 
that last year the Global Commission on Drug Policy - whose 
commissioners include former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker 
and former Secretary of State George Schultz- agreed the war on drugs 
"has failed." Or that this July, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also 
said "the war on drugs, while well-intentioned, has been a failure."

Despite all this, the nation's drug warriors plow ahead, driven by 
the fear that doing otherwise would be inviting a world where addicts 
would clog the gutters and third-graders could buy smack at the 
corner quick-mart. They ought to look at Portugal.

Portugal decriminalized drugs-even the hardest ones - 11 years ago. 
Offenders are now cited for administrative rather than criminal 
transgressions. A 2009 Cato Institute paper by Slate's Glen Greenwald 
examined what has happened in Portugal since. And?

The worst fears of drug-war hawks never materialized. Drug use has 
remained steady or, "in many categories, has actually decreased." HIV 
infection rates and drug-related mortality rates have dropped. The 
bogeyman of drug tourism - in which "planeloads of students" fly to 
Portugal to toke up or shoot up-never showed up. In short, "none of 
the parade of horrors" predicted by opponents came to pass, while 
"many of the benefits" predicted by advocates did.

This likely is because "decriminalization was never seen as a 
concession to the inevitability of drug abuse. To the contrary, it 
was, and is, seen as the most effective government policy for 
reducing addiction and its accompanying harms." Persons caught with 
drugs in Portugal are brought before "dissuasion commissions" whose 
"overriding goal" is to "avoid the stigma that arises from criminal 
proceedings.... At all times, respect for the alleged offender is 
emphasized." Those found to have a substance problem are sent to 
treatment rather than prison.

That's a sharp contrast to the approach in most of the United States, 
where the federal government "steadfastly opposes drug legalization." 
So says the current administration, headed by a man who brags that he 
once "inhaled (marijuana) frequently" because "that was the point." 
At least his inhaling had a point, which is more than you can say for 
our jail-'em and-forget-'em drug policy.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom