We Need a New Drug Policy

The War on Drugs has been a colossal and massively expensive failure. So what do we do next to fight illegal drugs? Here's an idea -- try something radically different!

40 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 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 Richard 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. Richard Nixon's 155 million dollar "War on Drugs" budget (back in 1971) earmarked 2/3 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 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, the 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 Volker, former presidents of several countries and the 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. 14 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 can be reached through her website www.DianeDimond.com Her latest book, "Cirque du Salahi" is available at Amazon.com