Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sense and nonsense on the drug war

I wondered when Obama laughed off the marijuana question at his town meeting the other day, if it would focus more attention on the drug war and sure enough, some major voices are still weighing in on the subject. Today Jack Cafferty posts a short essay at CNN. Here's the money graf:
What do you suppose the total price tag is for this failed war on drugs? One senior Harvard economist estimates we spend $44 billion a year fighting the war on drugs. He says if they were legal, governments would realize about $33 billion a year in tax revenue. Net swing of $77 billion. Could we use that money today for something else? You bet your ass we could. Plus the cartels would be out of business. Instantly. Goodbye crime and violence.
Reading the piece, you might think he had been reading my comments at Balloon Juice, where I spent far too long arguing the point with John Cole on Saturday. In any event, Cafferty's piece is pretty good except for the bit where he tries to blame the entire drug trade on lax border security that allowed cartels of illegal Mexicans to take over our cities. While it's true there are Mexican gangs in the business, everybody has a piece of the black market. It's not just Mexicans, legal or illegal.

Meanwhile, via Avedon, I see Eugene Robinson had a good rant a few days ago on the subject. He did pretty well until he fell off the rails of reality saying, "The obvious demand-side solution -- legalization -- would do more harm than good with some drugs, but maybe not with others."

There's a boatload of empirical evidence that proves this simply isn't true. Other countries have legalized, or at least decriminalized, illicit drugs at this point and the programs have been in effect for long enough to prove statistically that it reduces the harms of drug abuse and does not lead to a rise in addiction. The benefits of this approach far outweigh the harms of prohibition, which by any metric has been proven to be an expensive and abysmal failure.

But I shouldn't complain. I've been waiting for years for a national public discussion on the drug war. Even with the curious mix of common sense and outmoded false prohibitionist talking points in the debate, it's progress towards a more sane policy.

[More posts daily at The Detroit News]

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4 Comments:

OpenID Mahakal / מהכאל said...

If cannabis is made legal for adults, more people may use cannabis that cannot otherwise safely obtain it, and that means they are more likely to use cannabis in preference to something more dangerous.

I cannot make this argument about heroin. Nonetheless, the war on drugs is counterproductive and treating addicts as criminals rather than victims and people in need of medical help is only increasing the amount of actual crime.

Each substance requires a separate analysis and discussion, both as to the harms of the drugs themselves and the effects of prohibition versus regulation. Obviously I favor regulation when it is possible.

I would like to see cannabis prohibition ended first.

2:02:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Mahakal, as I said before, the empirical evidence exists that proves legalization of all drugs is the best answer. There's only 8 illegal ones you know.

It's not perfect. Nothing is. But it's the best solution. I certainly have no problem with starting with cannabis though. It's the least harmful of all drugs. Legal or illegal.

2:59:00 PM  
OpenID Mahakal / מהכאל said...

And it's obviously of medical use so it needs to be rescheduled just for the sake of resolving the obvious contradiction with the definition of schedule one.

Since there's only eight substances on the list, it shouldn't be so hard for us to take each one and think about what regulations are appropriate for that substance in particular. In some cases we might be able to reschedule by demonstrating medical use, like MDMA for PTSD, or LSD for terminal pain.

None of these are the complete answer either, obviously cocaine is schedule two. We need to end the war on drugs.

3:22:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

That's the bottom line. We need to end the war on drugs and start treating it like a public health program.

5:58:00 PM  

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