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Diane Dimond: After 40-Year War on Drugs, Next Logical Step Is Legalization

New policy involving regulations and taxation the best solution for a growing problem

By Diane Dimond |

Forty years ago this month, President Richard Nixon declared his War on Drugs. Now, 40 years later, can we honestly say we’ve got a handle on the problem?

No, of course we can’t. The drug scourge continues with its ever-increasing criminality and murderous violence. It heaps economic hardships on families, communities and prison systems. Our decades-long drug war gives off the stinking scent of failure and the undeniable conclusion that the way we’ve tackled the problem so far just isn’t working.

So how long do we keep doing the same old things before we change course? Isn’t it time for a radical shift in strategy to try to lessen the impact the illegal drug trade has had on all of us?

I don’t want to make this a political thing, but after reading a couple of recent reports (more on that below), I’ve come to the conclusion that Nixon may have had a sharper focus on how to handle the drug problem than our current president.

You might think that the conservative Nixon, the president shamed by Watergate, ordered up a callous punishment-oriented drug control policy. But he didn’t. Nixon’s $155 million War on Drugs budget (in 1971) earmarked two-thirds of the money to go for treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts.

Somewhere along the line, each succeeding president lost sight of the idea that if you can cut back on the demand for illegal drugs, you can cripple the violent trade that sprouts up to supply it.

Today, despite President Barack Obama’s statement that “we have to think more about drugs as a public-health problem,” most of our anti-drug budget goes toward interdiction efforts and punishing people. Two years ago, White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske claimed the War on Drugs was over, but it sure feels like we’re still waging very expensive combat against an elusive problem that just keeps growing.

So, back to the reports I read. The first was from an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP is a group of current and former front-line responders to the War on Drugs. Its members are police, prosecutors, judges, FBI and DEA agents, corrections officials, military officers and others who know firsthand what it is like to wage this never-ending war. They embrace the idea of radical change, fully admitting that everything they have done in their law-enforcement career was for naught when it comes to stemming the tide of the illegal drug trade and the abuse of those poisons. They passionately urge lawmakers to embrace the idea of legalizing, regulating and taxing these drugs.

I know it sounds revolutionary. But imagine the chilling effect it would have on, say, the Mexican drug cartel. If there’s no more profit in smuggling drugs across the border into the United States, their violent gangs would lose power and control. The tens of thousands of drug-related murders each year would dwindle. America’s tax coffers would get much needed infusions. Drug addicts could get proper medical help in weaning themselves off their drug of choice. Why, they might even become contributing, taxpaying citizens!

LEAP isn’t the only group of knowledgeable people calling for this radical move. Earlier this month, a group of internationally known dignitaries including former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker, former presidents of several countries and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan endorsed the idea. In a report from their Global Commission on Drug Policy, they labeled the war on drugs a failure and encouraged nations, worldwide, to pursue the idea of legalization, regulation and taxation.

Hey, it worked with booze when we lifted prohibition back in the 1930s. Why wouldn’t it work now?

I recently wrote in this space about how state lawmakers have courageously stepped up to the plate to pass their own immigration laws after Washington’s monumental failure to act on that issue. Same thing here with the nation’s drug-related problems. While Congress wallows in budget battles and sex scandals, 16 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing medicinal marijuana for those with doctor’s prescriptions. Fourteen states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot.

For some inane reason, the Obama Justice Department silently and consistently continues to raid legal growers, registered medicinal marijuana clinics and patients who find relief from marijuana. The DOJ has conducted nearly 100 such raids in so-called “legal” states, according to LEAP’s report. That’s about double the number of such raids during the President George W. Bush years.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my taxpayer dollars going for police actions against legally approved operations. What a waste of money!

The day of total drug legalization will come — just as it did with alcohol. The question is: How many more multiple billions of dollars will we spend before we finally see it’s the logical way to go?

Diane Dimond is the author of Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust. Click here for more information. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).




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» on 06.20.11 @ 11:47 AM

Hey, it worked with booze when we lifted prohibition back in the 1930s. Why wouldn’t it work now?

Really?  It worked?  The only thing ending prohibition did was to provide a mechanism to put more money in government coffers through taxation. 

Alcohol accounts for a large portion of all vehicular fatalities at a rate of around 15,000 deaths per year in the U.S.  Alcohol also accounts for sustained numbers of violent spousal abuse incidents, as well as domestic homicides that number 1,000-1,600 per year for women.  Now add to that the additional numbers for drug-related accidents and crime, and you have a serious safety and health risk in the community.

I for one wouldn’t call that a raging success.  When the ability to treat alcoholism and drug abuse, then I might be swayed in this argument.  Until then, we must recognize that habitual drug abusers and irresponsible alcoholics will have a difficult time assimilating themselves within the normal population.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe we’re ready for that just yet.  Maybe in the future.

» on 06.20.11 @ 12:52 PM

Diane, you are right on, and if we can get more journalists and editorial writers to spread this idea, maybe the idea will spread.
After all, when we stopped Prohibition we reduced the criminal conduct of those engaged in following that path, not only users but purveyors as well.
And once the mystique of engaging in that activity disappears so will the attractive aspect.
Besides as you point out instead of spending money in the fruitless activity of criminalizing, we receive money in taxes. And for those moaning about how our tax rates are a huge burden on them, this should be appealing.

» on 06.20.11 @ 01:57 PM

I have been on the same page for years, take the criminality out of drug use and treat drugs the same as alcohol and tobacco, tax them and offer help to people who want to stop using. Our jails would not be as full, gangs might cease to exist as there will not be any money made by them selling drugs, the cartels might fall apart. The time has come to legalize.
Just for your info, I don’t drink, smoke or use drugs so I am not looking for personal gain, just some rational thinking.

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