Pubdate: Mon, 07 Jan 2013
Source: Manitoban, The (CN MB, Edu)
Copyright: 2013 The Manitoban Newspaper Publications Corporation
Author: Alex Passey


The war on drugs is an archaic waste of time and money, and a recent
poll conducted by Angus Reid suggests that 68 per cent of Canadians
feel this way. There was a time when our neighbours to the south held
a much more conservative view on this subject, but the same Angus Reid
poll revealed that 66 per cent of Americans also believe that the war
on drugs has been a dismal failure, and that 57 per cent of Canadians
and 54 per cent of Americans feel that marijuana should be legalized
and readily available for sale on the open market.

The states of Colorado and Washington have even gone so far as to vote
in favour of this policy, though U.S. federal law will always trump
any such vote at the state level, and marijuana will remain officially
illegal. I believe that the war on drugs is the most important issue
facing society right now. There is no other issue that touches so many
aspects of our lives on such a drastic level. It affects our economy,
a broad range of social issues, and our basic freedoms. The UN has
estimated that the global narcotics market is worth over US $320
billion a year. This is money that is taken out of the hands of our
economy, which could be taxed and spent on drastically improving our
social programs, such as support and treatment for addicts, but is
instead put directly into the hands of organized crime.

Not only would legalization allow us to invest more money into social
programs, it would also be a huge blow to the underground economy that
organized crime depends on, and would be absolutely devastating to the
criminals who cause such devastation to our society and make such
social programs necessary in the first place. Legalization would also
free up all the money that many nations are pumping into the war on
drugs. For example, the United States spent US $15 billion in 2010 on
a futile attempt to eliminate the supply of narcotics, money that
could be much more productively spent.

But as much as the war on drugs hurts the public at large, it hurts
the users even more. We have made criminals out of a large segment of
the population who are otherwise law-abiding citizens. There are
prisons filled with people who were suckered into selling drugs and
trying to make a quick buck in an underground economy. There are even
some in jail whose crime was nothing more than enjoying a vice that
was not sanctioned by the government. We have also stigmatized addicts
as criminals, making it far less likely that they will seek out the
help they need, and have driven them to even lower depths.

Sadly, even though legalization could cripple organized crime and
release users from the stigma so that they might step out into the
light, there is no end in sight. Despite the fact that there are
countless organizations advocating for legalization, some even founded
by the very people fighting the war on drugs (such as LEAP or Law
Enforcement Against Prohibition), the prospect of legalization, even
for a drug as benign as marijuana, is still a long way off.

You see, there are simply too many powerful people and organizations
that stand to benefit from narcotics remaining illegal. We've all seen
the anti-drug advertisements sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug
Free America. The hypocrisy here is that the PDFA has received
millions of dollars in funding from alcohol, tobacco, and prescription
drug companies. Of course, all of these corporate entities have a
stake in keeping narcotics illegal because they sell a product that is
in direct competition with chemical narcotics, and any new product on
the open market could potentially cut into their profits. Their
interest is economic, and not for the well-being of the public at large.

Yet in terms of nefariousness, the PDFA pales in comparison to the
privatized prison system in the U.S., a system I shudder to think may
one day be adopted in Canada when we can no longer economically
sustain our swelling prison population. Companies like the GEO group
and the Corrections Corporation of America actively lobby the American
government to maintain laws that are harsh on drug users and dealers
so that there is a steady flow of inmates that they can use for cheap
labour. Revenues for private prison corporations annually reach near
the two billion dollar mark. When there is this kind of profit to be
made, the pressure on the government to keep narcotics illegal and to
put drug users in jail for long periods of time is immense.

So for now we will continue to treat otherwise productive members of
society as criminals because of their choice of vices. Gangsters will
still gun each other down in the street in turf wars and continue to
recruit children from low-income families by giving them an easy way
to make a quick buck. Hundreds, if not thousands, of police and
soldiers will die in Mexico and South America in a hopeless battle
with the drug cartels.

Corporations will continue to exploit prison inmates as a cheap source
of labour. And liquor, tobacco, and prescription drug companies will
continue to rake in record profits every year.

Welcome to our drug free world. 
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