Of all the things we waste time and effort on, the War on Drugs is the most egregious violation of common sense. That is not to say that drugs are harmless. Drug use is debilitating in most cases and addictive in many. Still, drugs are impossible to police and drug abuse is better handled directly by professionals than left to law enforcement.
We should have learned 90 years ago that prohibition does not work. Making alcohol illegal merely made it lucrative enough to attract well- organized, well-armed criminal gangs and make fortunes for thugs. The legalization of alcohol has required us to learn to cope with alcoholism and all the many problems it causes. But it has also allowed is to tax the product and focus our police resources elsewhere.
We would be far better off if that “elsewhere” did not include trying to stem the sale of drugs that we have made illegal. It has been more than 30 years since the war on drugs was declared. In that time we have spent billions of dollars, watched thousands of young people kill each other, built a dangerous complex of police and prisons, incarcerated hundreds of thousands of people, and made absolutely no progress in solving the drug problem. We still have junkies, we still have gang wars, and drug lords are strong enough to challenge the legitimate government of Mexico. No amount of increased firepower, border surveillance or international cooperation will solve the problem. (The only statistically significant change in drug numbers in recent years is the decline in incarceration of blacks and increase in incarceration of whites. This is because we are focusing our efforts more on meth than crack. Meth is made in the USA, mostly in rural, white communities.)
Today is April 20. The New York Times reports attitudes are changing … at least towards marijuana. College kids are smoking it again, its use is becoming more casual. The Busch administration’s draconian efforts to enforce federal drug limits in the face of California’s medical marijuana law failed and has been largely rescinded by the Obama administration. Several states are considering medical marijuana laws. (And in California everyone who wants a prescription seems to be able to get one.) That right-wing nut job Glenn Beck … a self-styled libertarian… has called for legalization of all drugs. (Even a monkey can hit the right button once in a while.) The trump card may soon be played in California, where legislators, seeking tax revenue, are thinking about taxing marijuana sold by prescription.
That is all well and good, but it is only a small part of the problem. The truth is we can’t control drug use, we can only treat it. Making it criminal only exacerbates the problem. We can solve a lot of problems (the Afghan economy?) by making all drugs legal, taxing them, and letting the public health community handle the consequences.