#324 Is The Drug War Damaging America?

Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2006
Subject: #324 Is The Drug War Damaging America?


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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #324 – Wednesday, 22 February 2006

In his column, below, the Wall Street Journal’s Deputy Editor for
International Affairs George Melloan provides a lengthy list of
provocative criticisms of the modern day Prohibition – The War on Drugs.

This is good news for those seeking increased discussion in major
media regarding failed public drug policies. The Wall Street Journal
is the second most widely read newspaper in the United States. It is
well known for opinion page support of the drug war.

But it is also know for printing letters in response to it’s opinion
page content, as illustrated by the seven letters printed in response
to this editorial in 1998:


Please consider writing a Letter to the Editor and sending it
immediately. Letters of 200 words or less are more likely to be printed.

Thanks for your effort and support.

It’s not what others do it’s what YOU do


Pubdate: Tue, 21 Feb 2006
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Column: Global View
Page: A19
Copyright: 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Contact: wsj.ltrs@wsj.com
Website: http://www.wsj.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/487
Author: George Melloan


Economist Milton Friedman predicted in Newsweek nearly 34 years ago
that Richard Nixon’s ambitious “global war against drugs” would be a
failure. Much evidence today suggests that he was right. But the war
rages on with little mainstream challenge of its basic weapon,

To be sure, Mr. Friedman wasn’t the only critic. William Buckley’s
National Review declared a decade ago that the U.S. had “lost” the
drug war, bolstering its case with testimony from the likes of Joseph
D. McNamara, a former police chief in Kansas City, Mo., and San Jose,
Calif. But today discussion of the war’s depressing cost-benefit ratio
is being mainly conducted in the blogosphere, where the tone is
predominantly libertarian. In the broader polity, support for the
great Nixon crusade remains sufficiently strong to discourage
effective counterattacks.

In broaching this subject, I offer the usual disclaimer. One beer
before dinner is sufficient to my mind-bending needs. I’ve never
sampled any of the no-no stuff and have no desire to do so. So let’s
proceed to discuss this emotion-laden issue as objectively as possible.

The drug war has become costly, with some $50 billion in direct
outlays by all levels of government, and much higher indirect costs,
such as the expanded prison system to house half a million drug-law
offenders and the burdens on the court system. Civil rights sometimes
are infringed. One sharply rising expense is for efforts to interdict
illegal drug shipments into the U.S., which is budgeted at $1.4
billion this fiscal year, up 41% from two years ago.

That reflects government’s tendency to throw more money at a program
that isn’t working. Not only have the various efforts not stopped the
flow but they have begun to create friction with countries the U.S.
would prefer to have as friends.

As the Journal’s Mary O’Grady has written, a good case can be made
that U.S.-sponsored efforts to eradicate coca crops in Latin America
are winning converts among Latin peasants to the anti-American causes
of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Their friend Evo
Morales was just elected president of Bolivia mainly by the peasant
following he won by opposing a U.S.-backed coca-eradication program.
Colombia’s huge cocaine business still thrives despite U.S. combative
efforts, supporting, among others, leftist guerrillas.

More seriously, Mexico is being destabilized by drug gangs warring
over access to the lucrative U.S. market. A wave of killings of
officials and journalists in places like Nuevo Laredo and Acapulco is
reminiscent of the 1930s Prohibition-era crime waves in Al Capone’s
Chicago and the Purple Gang’s Detroit. In Afghanistan, al Qaeda and
the Taliban are proselytizing opium-poppy growers by saying that the
U.S. is their enemy. The claim, unlike many they use, has the merit of
being true.

Milton Friedman saw the problem. To the extent that authorities
curtail supplies of marijuana, cocaine and heroin coming into the rich
U.S. market, the retail price of these substances goes up, making the
trade immensely profitable — tax-free, of course. The more the U.S.
spends on interdiction, the more incentive it creates for taking the
risk of running drugs.

In 1933, the U.S. finally gave up on the 13-year prohibition of
alcohol — a drug that is by some measures more intoxicating and
dangerous to health than marijuana. That effort to alter human
behavior left a legacy of corruption, criminality, and deaths and
blindness from the drinking of bad booze. America’s use of alcohol
went up after repeal but no serious person today suggests a repeat of
the alcohol experiment. Yet prohibition is still being attempted, at
great expense, for the small portion of the population — perhaps
little more than 5% — who habitually use proscribed drugs.

Mind-altering drugs do of course cause problems. Their use contributes
to crime, automobile accidents, work-force dropouts and family
breakups. But the most common contributor to these social problems is
not the illegal substances. It is alcohol. Society copes by punishing
drunken misbehavior, offering rehabilitation programs and warning
youths of the dangers. Most Americans drink moderately, however,
creating no problems either for themselves or society.

Education can be an antidote for self-abuse. When it was finally
proved that cigarettes were a health risk, smoking by young people
dropped off and many started lecturing their parents about that bad
habit. LSD came and then went after its dangers became evident.
Heroin’s addictive and debilitative powers are well-known enough to
limit its use to a small population. Private educational programs
about the risks of drug abuse have spread throughout the country with
good effect.

Some doctors argue that the use of some drugs is too limited.
Marijuana can help control nausea after chemotherapy, relieve
multiple-sclerosis pain and help patients whose appetites have been
lowered to a danger level by AIDS. Morphine, some say, is used too
sparingly for easing the terrible pain of terminally ill cancer
patients. It is argued that pot and cocaine use by inner-city youths
is a self-prescribed medicine for the depression and despair that
haunts their existence. Doctors prescribe Prozac for the same problems
of the middle class.

So what’s the alternative? An army of government employees now makes a
living from the drug laws and has a rather conflictive interest in
claiming both that the drug laws are working and that more money is
needed. The challenge is issued: Do you favor legalization? In fact,
most drugs are legal, including alcohol, tobacco and coffee and the
great array of modern, life-saving drugs administered by doctors. To
be precise, the question should be do you favor legalization or
decriminalization of the sale and use of marijuana, cocaine, heroin
and methamphetamines?

A large percentage of Americans will probably say no, mainly because
they are law-abiding people who maintain high moral and ethical
standards and don’t want to surrender to a small minority that flouts
the laws, whether in the ghettos of Washington D.C. or Beverly Hills
salons. The concern about damaging society’s fabric is legitimate. But
another question needs to be asked: Is that fabric being damaged now?


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