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USA: Drug War Has Been Expensive Failure

June 23, 2010

The War on Drugs
Image by paulmmay via Flickr

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Since President Richard Nixon launched the “war on drugs” four decades ago, U.S. taxpayers have poured $1 trillion into the crusade that is largely a flop.

Narcotics are more rampant in America now than ever. Numerous drug murders and robberies happen daily. U.S. prisons and jails are bursting with 2.5 million inmates, mostly drug-related. America has the world’s worst lockup rate, wrecking millions of families at horrible public cost. A recent roadside survey found that one-sixth of drivers tested positive for dope. Prescription pills are a rising menace.

Drug gangs in Mexico have killed a reported 28,000 people in the past five years, battling for control of the lucrative northbound trade. Jamaica is under siege because a narcotics kingpin wanted for supplying America is barricaded in a slum.

Asked about the U.S. war on drugs, President Obama’s narcotics czar, Gil Kerlikowske, told The Associated Press: “In the grand scheme, it has not been successful. Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

The bottom line: Prohibition causes as many evils as it cures. America learned that dismal lesson in the 1920s when the historic ban on alcohol spawned organized crime, illicit “speakeasies,” bribery of law officers, and sundry ills. The result was so ugly that Prohibition was repealed. Crime related to bootlegging faded.

Finally, momentum is building to downgrade the war on drugs. Californians will vote this fall on a proposal to legalize marijuana sales for anyone over 21. Here’s another example:

When alcohol was banned in the ’20s, a legal loophole let drugstores sell “medicinal” liquor — and thousands of outlets flowered. Today, medicinal marijuana has been legalized by 14 states, and more are hopping on the bandwagon. “Pot shops” are popping. When government imposes taboos, crafty people outwit taboo-enforcers.

President Obama also is shifting the U.S. focus. Last month, he launched a “balanced” National Drug Control Strategy, which spotlights prevention and treatment as well as police raids. We hope this change reduces hostilities in the “war.”

Criminalizing alcohol created a class of alcohol criminals — who vanished after alcohol became legal. Criminalizing drugs makes millions of Americans criminals.

In a decade or so, pot probably will be legal in most of the United States. Looking back, people will wonder why Americans in 2010 were jailed for it.

We’ve always felt it’s absurd for America to throw people in prison for marijuana, while legalizing tobacco and booze, which do more harm. Prohibition of alcohol was a fiasco. Prohibition of dope isn’t much better.

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