Government needs to trim its budget somehow
A no-win 'war on drugs'
At this site, we focus on the money and wealth that belongs to all of us, on public revenue, on social surplus, and on the worth of Earth. All of us are deeply effected by how government gets and spends public revenue. For instance, when politicians misspend our money, that leaves less money for them to spend in beneficial ways. And where government performs poorly, there they lower land values, and if ground rents are your tax base (or a hefty portion of it), then you the public lose again.
While none of us can live beyond our means forever, or even for very long, it may also be the case that all of us can not either, that society can not. Government, too, may have to spend less, and maybe some day soon.
What should it spend less on? In most states, the only growth industry is imprisoning drug users. It may be time to stop treating recreational drug use as a felony and instead treat it as a social issue.
by Los Angeles Times editors, February 28, 2009It has been nearly 40 years since President Nixon began the "war on drugs" in 1971. Its objective from the outset was to suppress the manufacture, distribution, and consumption of illicit drugs. By all of those measures -- and by common agreement -- the multibillion-dollar effort has been a failure. Supply is plentiful, distribution sophisticated, and consumption steady. Today, there is rare consensus among policymakers, law enforcement leaders and healthcare professionals: Our drug policy, they concede, is not working.
The goal was laudable -- drug use can and does cause profound social harm -- but now we know that the methods chosen to address the problem were flawed. We tried to incarcerate our way out of drug use and succeeded merely in locking up 800,000 people a year on drug charges. Worse, violent cartels, drug mafias, and street gangs have created networks of organized crime that stretch from the streets of Los Angeles to the coca fields and jungles of Colombia and Peru.
It is in this context that the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, convened by three former presidents, has called on the US to end the "war". Among other suggestions, former presidents Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia urge the U.S. to evaluate the public policy and medicinal merits of decriminalizing marijuana for personal possession.
Such decriminalization (which isn't the same as legalization; it would be OK to hold small amounts of marijuana for personal use, but sale and distribution would still be illegal) might solve some problems but exacerbate others. It could, for example, encourage more young people to begin using drugs. And though marijuana doesn't cause anywhere near the number of deaths of tobacco and alcohol, it is a gateway drug to more dangerous substances, and its decriminalization could worsen the impact of drugs on our communities.
These are serious questions, but addressing them can only begin once policymakers accept the need for an open debate, unfettered by the fear of seeming softheaded. Latin America's leaders have usefully opened that conversation; it is now up to the Obama administration to engage in it as part of a hemispheric commitment to fashioning a better response to drug cultivation, transportation, and use.
In 2004, when he was a senator, Obama categorically stated, "The war on drugs is an utter failure." Let's hope he remembers that -- and acts on it.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
This is the U.S. on drugs
Making Pot Legal: We Can Do It -- Here's How
The War on Pot: America's $42 Billion Annual Boondoggle
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