Pubdate: Tue, 11 Dec 2012
Source: Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, AZ)
Copyright: 2012 Arizona Daily Star
Author: Harry Peck
Note: Harry Peck is a retired attorney living near Tumacacori.


For 40 years, at a cost of more than $1 trillion, America has waged a 
"war against drugs." It has failed completely.

It has had no impact on the use of recreational drugs, which remains 
at the same or higher levels than when the "war" began.

Why do we continue this costly, failed and unpopular policy when 
other countries have tried legalization and decriminalization with 
considerable success?

Not surprisingly, the answer is money. Not just the drug dealers make 
huge profits, but also respected businesses and organizations.

This country has had attempts to legalize (and tax) marijuana. By 
looking at the opposition to these, we can see who is determined to 
keep marijuana use criminal, and why.

The wealthiest, and most vigorous, opponents of decriminalization are 
private prison corporations. They make billions annually by 
incarcerating people, primarily nonviolent offenders, drug users and 
illegal immigrants, and have spent millions lobbying to increase 
sentences and imprison more people.

The largest, and most influential (especially in Arizona) of these, 
is Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which runs more than 60 
prisons and immigrant detention centers in 19 states and the District 
of Columbia.

In Arizona, its influence is enormous. Its high-profile lobbyists 
include Chuck Coughlin, a senior political adviser to Gov. Jan 
Brewer, who chaired her transition team when she assumed office and 
managed her campaign in 2010. CCA's lobbying paid off when our 
Legislature awarded more new prison contracts in September 2012

The second major opponents of decriminalization are police and prison 
guard unions. Police departments everywhere have become dependent on 
federal anti-drug grants to finance their budgets.

Third are the alcohol and tobacco interests. Obviously, they fear 
competition for American recreational dollars from a new industry.

When Prop. 19 was proposed in California to legalize cultivation and 
distribution of pot, the California Beer and Beverage Distributors' 
PAC donated to the campaign to defeat that initiative.

The fourth opponents are pharmaceutical corporations, whose 
opposition is clearly based on monetary interest - not only is 
marijuana alleged to have medicinal properties, but it can be a 
substitute for widely used over the counter or prescription drugs, 
which are more expensive and profitable.

The "war on drugs" has failed. A majority of the population wants to 
legalize marijuana, yet we arrest almost 1 million people a year for 
marijuana violations, almost 90 percent of whom are charged with 
possession only.

Two states recently decriminalized marijuana. This may provide a 
stimulus, but federal authorities have consistently taken the 
position that state laws do not nullify federal laws.

It is clear, therefore, that this is not a problem that can be solved 
on a state-by-state basis, producing myriad undoubtedly differing state laws.

We spend more on prisons than on higher education and have more 
people in prison than any other nation in the world.

The conscience of this country demands that we put an end to this 
situation. We must follow the lead of other countries, like Portugal, 
and decriminalize the mere possession and/or use of recreational drugs.

By taxing and regulating these drugs, we can generate billions to pay 
for schools, health care, deficit reduction and other priorities, and 
lower the cost of law enforcement and incarceration.

We can starve the cartels of their primary source of income and 
restore peace and order to the areas affected by their violence. The 
future is up to us.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom