10/16/2012 02:23 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2012

Time to Abandon Prohibition

A recent article by Fredrik Dahl noted that Mexican authorities believe they are making progress in the war on drugs. Top-level operatives have been killed or captured, and even those at the next level down in the hierarchy are being brought down. Cartels can do less than before. I believe these claims to be largely true... and completely irrelevant. We have been approaching our drug problem from the wrong end for decades. Our first mistake was to declare war; that is exactly what we got, and why we are in such trouble. We could empty our jails, gut the cartels, generate billions in revenue, and lower crime everywhere simply by legalizing drugs. We should have learned our lesson with alcohol and prohibition. Making booze illegal gave rise to notorious mobsters; legalizing it destroyed their organizations or forced them on to other endeavors. We make drugs illegal to enforce an outdated moral code. The arbitrary division between alcohol, tobacco and legally prescribed drugs on one hand and banned substances is very fine indeed. So fine that we cannot justify torturing society to enforce the diminishing distinction.

We, of course, need to enforce laws that prevent use of any drug in inappropriate circumstances like driving or flying an airplane, or at work for that matter. We ban cigarettes just about everywhere, and we jail people for driving under the influence of a legal substance. We can do the same for all drugs. We don't need to legalize marijuana; that is like moving a beach one grain of sand at a time. We need to legalize all drugs, any drugs, and instead focus our resources on enforcing laws that prohibit their use in inappropriate circumstances. Cocaine? Sure. Make it legal; but make it illegal to have any trace in your blood at work, or when driving or operating heavy equipment. Conservatives should jump on board with this. After all, guns don't kill people, people do. Well, drugs don't kill people; people using drugs in excess kill people. We need to decriminalize drugs but make abusing the drugs costly -- much as we do with alcohol now.

People who want to use drugs will do so whether legal or not; our attempts to enforce one rigid view of morality has not worked any better than prohibition. The time has come to declare the war on drugs over.