Saturday, March 07, 2009

End the Drug Wars

This isn't likely to happen anytime soon, or even in our lifetimes. There are far too many powerful interests who profit from Prohibition, from the politicians to law enforcement to the prison-industrial complex. It's perfect for scolds and self-serving moralizers and holier-than-thou types who condemn the pot smokers while sipping martinis. It's perfect for demagogues who wish to marginalize or disenfranchise certain segments of the population. And the illicit drug trade, the vast and immensely profitable underground market, remains an important source of revenue for governments that secretly fund activities that the public would never approve.

Given all that, it's encouraging whenever any serious discussion on Prohibition arises. The Economist is to be thanked for saying what, frankly, needs to be said:

Next week ministers from around the world gather in Vienna to set international drug policy for the next decade. Like first-world-war generals, many will claim that all that is needed is more of the same. In fact the war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless. That is why The Economist continues to believe that the least bad policy is to legalise drugs.

Clearly, we have immense problems and challenges from the use and abuse of alcohol and tobacco. But compared to the problems of narco-trafficking? The rise of dangerous, powerfully violent drug cartels? Urban gangs waging turf wars? These things occur for one reason only: money. It's all about the money. If the Colombian drug cartels thought they could make more money opening White Castles, trust me, they'd skip to it in a heartbeat. They don't deal in the global drug trade because they're evil. They don't twirl their mustaches and tie maidens to railroad tracks. They're only in it for the money.

End Prohibition, and you immediately make all that money disappear. Poof. When's the last time you ever heard of anyone who was bootlegging booze?

As I've said, there are far too many political actors who are invested in the status quo. For them, Prohibition works and it works very well. But for the rest of us - the ones who have to live with the violence, terrorism, and bloodshed - this isn't working at all. It's not worth having your nightclub bombed or your neighborhood shot up, so you can pretend that Junior isn't getting pot, or some bloated talk radio host isn't becoming a heroin junkie. Wake up and smell the coffee and sugar. This isn't working. It's not making a damn bit of difference.

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