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Philip Slater

Philip Slater

Posted March 18, 2009 | 01:30 PM (EST)

Another Spectacular Failure: The War on Drugs


We Americans seem to be incapable of learning from past mistakes. We learned nothing from the debacle of 1929. We learned nothing from Vietnam. And we learned nothing from Prohibition. The neo-conservative movement that Reagan initiated has managed to repeat all three.

Prohibition skyrocketed organized crime and violence, deprived the government of tax revenue, and had little impact on the consumption of alcohol. The 'War' on drugs has had the same effect, as well as filling our prisons to overflowing with nonviolent 'offenders'. No nation in the world comes anywhere near the supposedly 'free' United States in locking up such a high percentage of its own citizens. And since it costs more to send a person to prison than to put that same person through college, we're wasting money training criminals that could be spent training useful white-collar workers.

If all drugs were decriminalized and taxed tomorrow--all but marijuana made available only through a doctor's prescription, with clinics for the supervision of addicts--the following events would immediately take place:

1. Billions of dollars would flow into federal, state, and local coffers.

2. The drug cartels in Mexico, Colombia, and elsewhere would collapse.

3. The Taliban would be de-funded.

4. The expensive 'war' on drugs would end, saving more billions.

5. Nonviolent prisoners could be released and retrained, saving more billions, and creating useful, tax-paying citizens.

6. The crime rate would drop, and police would be freed to perform more useful functions.

Those with a vested interest in the status quo scream bloody murder whenever decriminalization is suggested, although they certainly don't recommend banning alcohol again. Did alcohol consumption skyrocket when Prohibition ended? There may have been an increase in moderate use, but no one claims legalization of alcohol was a bad idea. Two of the three most addictive drugs that exist in the world today--alcohol and tobacco--are legal.

The old nonsense about marijuana being a 'gateway' drug is still trotted out today--no one seems to realize that this argument is double-edged. People move on from marijuana to harder drugs (alcohol being one) precisely because marijuana is too mild for them. Addictive personalities will always gravitate to more addictive substances. There will always be drunks and junkies, and they'll always find something. It's ironic that those same folks who claim that 'people, not guns, kill people' refuse make the same argument for drugs--instead assigning them magical properties: "My child isn't a junkie, the big, bad drugs did it!"

Decriminalization doesn't mean you'd be able to buy methamphetamine at your local 7-11. All addictive drugs would require a prescription and addicts would have to register. They would be able to hold jobs, their addictions would cost little, so they wouldn't need to steal to maintain their habit, and they would have assistance quitting if they were motivated. There are, after all, wealthy people addicted to heroin today who have held jobs more successfully and for longer durations than 'functioning alcoholics'.

The only real downside to the decriminalization of drugs would be that the CIA would have to find another way to finance some of its more covert operations.

(In his inauguration speech, President Obama talked of a new way of doing things. To understand the cultural paradigm shift that engendered this change--the change that both the neo-cons and the Taliban have resisted so fiercely, see my latest book, The Chrysalis Effect: THE Metamorphosis of Global Culture).