Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Still Losing the 'War on Drugs'

My, does this seem right!
"The futile effort to stop Americans from consuming politically incorrect intoxicants is the real source of the violence in Mexico, since prohibition creates a market with artificially high prices and hands it over to criminals. ...Instead of importing Mexico's prohibitionist approach to guns, we should stop exporting our prohibitionist approach to drugs."

Here's my own previous blog post on the topic of the futility of continuing to fight a drug war we obviously have no intention of winning:
One of the great failures of our nation was Prohibition. Eliminating the sad consequences of alcoholism was a worthy goal, but never shared by enough Americans to make it actually possible.

Another great failure was our war efforts in Viet Nam. In my opinion at the time, we weren't doing the things necessary to win, and were therefore doomed eventually to lose.

Both of the above problems seem to apply now to our decades-long "war on drugs."

Despite decades of education against use of illegal drugs, some folks in pretty much every community still choose to use them, enough to make complete elimination of the drug trade almost impossible.

If we really wanted to win the War on Drugs, we'd prosecute customers as harshly as sellers, and not worry, for example if pesticides sprayed on Marijuana plants still ended up in Marijuana sold here, even if it killed those who used it.

The only country I'm aware of that "won" its war on drugs was Communist China, which reportedly did so by immediately executing anyone caught in the trade.

We can't do such things and still be America, any more than we could in the '60s have simply paved over Viet Nam (my preferred solution at the time.)

As a result, it's not a question of whether we will eventually legalize most illegal drugs, but only of when we will finally do so. That being the case, sooner is better, with one exception:

I don't want legalization to turn into implied approval. If someone just has to smoke a joint in the privacy of their own home where no one else is harmed, that would likely be OK with me. But I don't want to see billboards suggesting I "Smoke Mary Jane", nor would I want to see vials of Crack next to the condoms at the local Safeway.

Canada, in my opinion, had a better idea. When it legalized alcohol, it restricted sales of hard liquor to government stores, which were intentionally not made attractive and did not advertise.
That removed the incentive for marketers to increase the use of hard liquor, and ensured profits from such sales went where they could help deal with the unfortunate consequences of legalization.

Some Americans sense a constitutional right to advertise any legal product on every flat surface, but I do not. In my opinion, many bad products that must nonetheless be legal for use by adults should not be advertised, lest they artificially increase demand for an unhealthy product.

I've been advocating legalization publicly for a few years now, and have yet to meet anyone (other than friend Greg) willing to actively disagree with the idea. This may be an idea whose time has come, if only we can remember legalization is not equivalent to approval.

Update:
M. Simon reports "there are two iron rules of prohibition. The harder the enforcement the harder the drugs. The harder the enforcement the harder the criminals." The rest of his article here is also well worth reading.

Update2: Instapundit adds "Legalize the stuff, tax it like tobacco, and let the trial lawyers sue sellers for any product defects or dangers."

That would be a corrective for problems resulting from legalizing any and all drugs to thereby also cut medical costs, as suggested in a second previous blog entry:
change the role of the Food and Drug Administration, from deciding what drugs may be sold at all to merely certifying, like Good Housekeeping or Consumer Reports, which drugs are known to be safe and effective. This immediately reduces the cost of bringing new drugs to market by removing most of the hoops through which a company must now jump before being allowed to sell new drugs.

Final note: This all also has immediate relevance to our current efforts in Afghanistan. How likely is it that we can prevail there long term, so long as we insist on fighting not only Al Queda and the Taliban, but also a thousand-year old trade in opium poppies?

Update2: Here is a similar opinion from New Scientist:
"Far from protecting us and our children, the war on drugs is making the world a much more dangerous place.

SO FAR this year, about 4000 people have died in Mexico's drugs war - a horrifying toll. If only a good fairy could wave a magic wand and make all illegal drugs disappear, the world would be a better place.

Dream on. Recreational drug use is as old as humanity, and has not been stopped by the most draconian laws. Given that drugs are here to stay, how do we limit the harm they do?

The evidence suggests most of the problems stem not from drugs themselves, but from the fact that they are illegal. The obvious answer, then, is to make them legal."