Pubdate: Sun, 06 Jan 2013
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2013 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Erich Prince
Note: Erich Prince is a freelance writer in Wynnewood
Page: D3

Legalization Can Restore Trust in Government and Society.


In 1991, Milton Friedman appeared on the television series America's 
Drug Forum: "I see America with half the number of prisons, half the 
number of prisoners, 10,000 fewer homicides a year, inner cities in 
which there's a chance for these poor people to live without being 
afraid for their lives ... the same thing happened under Prohibition 
of alcohol as is happening now." JOHN OVERMYER

Friedman, a Nobel laureate in economics, then challenged government's 
infringement on individual liberty: "If [the drug user] is caught, he 
goes to jail. Now, is that moral? Is that proper? I think it's 
absolutely disgraceful that our government should be in the position 
of converting people who are not harming others into criminals.... 
That's the issue to me."

Governments exist to protect the governed, not to establish morality. 
John Locke, the forefather of our Declaration of Independence, 
affirmed that we must arrive at self-awareness, and thus purpose, 
through experience. Government must not interfere with the quest of 
the individual to substantiate the value of his existence unless his 
actions directly endanger others. How, then, can the United States 
seek to control what its citizens do with their own bodies?

Not only does the "war on drugs" violate the nation's commitment to 
personal liberty; it is also alarmingly ineffective, as Prohibition was.

The 18th Amendment failed to deter the consumption of alcohol, and 
gave rise to organized crime. Carroll Wooddy's often cited 
retrospective, The Growth of the Federal Government, 1915-1932, 
illustrated the consequences: Violent crime increased by 13 percent, 
the federal prison population grew by 366 percent, and total spending 
on the prison system increased by 1,000 percent. Alcohol consumption 
at the end of the "noble experiment" was higher than when it began.

Similarly, since President Richard M. Nixon first declared the "war 
on drugs" in 1971, the inefficiency and enormous cost of enforcing 
drug laws have been widely criticized. Historian Richard 
Davenport-Hines notes in his book The Pursuit of Oblivion that "10-15 
percent of illicit heroin ... is intercepted," but "at least 75 
percent of illicit drug shipments would have to be intercepted before 
the traffickers' profits were hurt."

It is time to recognize that the war on drugs is impossible to win. 
People will use drugs regardless of their legality. When a government 
attempts to enforce an unenforceable law, the people lose trust in 
the integrity of law. Worse, economically, the United States is 
protecting the drug cartels, as prohibition restricts the supply of 
drugs without lessening the demand. What could be fair, legal 
competition is replaced by corrupt drug cartels that capitalize on a 
protected black market. Dealers, in turn, coerce children, especially 
in economically challenged neighborhoods, to use drugs. By 
encouraging dependence, dealers ensure a consistent income stream 
while giving rise to the next generation of addicts and perpetuating 
the cycle of faltering education, crime, and a lack of social 
progress. This underground nature of the drug trade promotes 
violence. If a disagreement arises, a dealer's only recourse is 
force, as he lacks the security of a judicial system.

Legalization would remove the incentive to sell drugs and also 
provide a taxable, quality, regulated market. Jeffrey Miron, a senior 
lecturer in the Harvard University economics department and a senior 
fellow at the Cato Institute, estimates an annual tax revenue of $46.7 billion.

Portugal, which fully decriminalized the use of drugs in 2001, has 
witnessed a significant reduction in consumption. It replaced 
incarceration with therapy. Rather than imprison people with drug 
problems, the government recommends, but does not mandate, treatment. 
According to a 2009 story in Time magazine, Portugal had the lowest 
lifetime use of marijuana in the European Union, at 10 percent. (The 
rate in the United States is 39.8 percent.) The use of any drug by 
teens fell from 14.1 percent to 10.6. New cases of HIV in drug users 
decreased by 17 percent.

By cooperatively treating addiction as a health problem, legalization 
helps restore trust between the government and the people. Users are 
encouraged to recover and become functioning members of society 
rather than clogging the prison system.

The use of drugs is not a threat to public safety. However, the 
illicit trade resulting from prohibition is the cause of much 
violence and social distress. Prohibition has been tried, and it has 
failed to solve America's drug problem.
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