15 February 2009


Three former Latin American presidents, all conservative, have issued a report criticizing the federal government’s war on drugs as a complete failure. Worse it is undermining democratic governments in Latin America by fueling corruption, insurgencies, and violent drug gangs. Yet despite billions of dollars in expenditures the supply of drugs has hardly been affected, driven by the demand in the United States. Drug violence is rampant just across the border in Mexico, where their federal government has had to call out the Army to try and deal with it.

Drug violence continues to plague poor communities in the United States as well. We have one of the largest prison populations in the world largely due to the drug war, although most are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. We have criminalized generations of young people to dead end lives for offenses that are often trivial. Note the nutty sheriff in South Carolina currently pursuing Michael Phelps for smoking pot.

Some states have come to realize none of this is working and have passed laws either allowing medical use or decriminalizing marijuana, but they have been trumped by the federal drug warriors. We should allow various kinds of experiments at the state and local level to see how things work. The most cogent arguments for legalization are libertarian- that individuals have the right to do what they want as long as they do not harm others. To this I would add that the laws are made by society’s winners; those for whom the system works. However there are also losers with lives of unrelieved misery. By what right do we deny them the choice to alleviate the pain of an otherwise hopeless existence?

At the very least marijuana should be decriminalized, even in just a few jurisdictions. The only possible argument against this is use by children. Here the law could continue to be stringent, even enhanced given that children are already exposed to it. It is true that some individuals can be negatively impacted in terms of abuse, while others can use it without any effects. As with addictions this is probably a genetic predisposition, but the same is also true of alcohol or cigarettes, which cause far more harm. There are also medical benefits for some people suffering from serious disease, and it is absurd to deny them the option to alleviate painful symptoms.  

I am not arguing for blanket legalization at this time, but rather that the feds stand down from their destructive, failed effort, support rehabilitation instead, and allow states and localities to try different approaches. Then we at least have a means of comparing various approaches.

This would also relieve friendly governments in Latin America, and deny our enemies a source of revenue and a weapon to use against us, as well as undercut drug gangs that are spreading into other areas such as smuggling and illegal immigration. In Afghanistan we could simply buy up the opium crop and thereby deprive enemies of revenue and recruitment tools, at much lower cost.

No comments:

Post a Comment