THE BLOG
09/12/2006 12:52 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why, Post 9-11, Are Dems Still Fighting the Drug War?

Last week, Bob Geiger posted an entry titled "Bill to Cripple Taliban Passes, After GOP Tries to Kill It." It described legislation proposed by Chuck Schumer which would authorize $700 million to fund efforts to eradicate opium and fight drug trafficking in Afghanistan. Republicans (and one Democrat) had tried to cut the money. Geiger portrayed this as evidence of their perfidy.

Presumably, the "yellow dog" Democrat intended to rally Democratic support, assuming that liberals would agree that pouring $700 million into counter-narcotics efforts-- that have never had a single success anywhere in terms of reducing drug supply or demand-- was a good idea. According to his headline, he thought that that level of counter-narcotics action would "cripple" the Taliban. Not a single one of the 23 posters who responded agreed.

I pointed out that a far more effective use of the money would be to allow the farmers to legitimately sell their opium either to us for destruction or to the pharmaceutical industry, for use in the third world where there is a significant shortage of painkillers. I have previously written an op-ed on this for the New York Times-- the response to the idea was overwhelmingly positive, but also overwhelmingly included sentiments like "Great idea, but it will never happen."

I want to ask Democrats and their supporters like Geiger-- and the large libertarian contingent of Republicans and Independents who oppose the war on drugs-- why not?

Why are Democrats wedded to a drug policy that they initially supported in order not to be seen as "soft" on crime-- but that doesn't, as far as I can tell, actually reflect their values? Why do major liberal organizations-- for example, Public Citizen, which recently suggested that doctors aren't getting punished enough for drug offenses-- claim to support the rights of patients and the idea that addiction is a disease, but then turn around and continue to support harsh, incarceration policies and expensive interdiction efforts that have never been proven effective?

Why can't Democrats come out and say that fighting a war on drugs at the same time as we must deal with terrorism is complete insanity, a "fatal distraction" as this book by a noted drug policy expert argues? Why can't Democrats appeal to libertarians with sensible drug policies? Why do liberals fight to keep government out of the bedroom-- but then think it should have a say over what substances we choose to put into our body? If Reason can see that there's a place for the FDA, surely Democrats should be able to recognize that fighting bongs in an age of dirty bombs is senseless?

A recent study just found that 98% of the marijuana eradicated by law enforcement in the United States is "ditchweed"-- in other words, hemp with such a low THC content that you'd be more likely to get high from oxygen deprivation due to inhaling it than from anything psychoactive in it. Millions of dollars are spent essentially trying to kill weeds that are no more likely to get someone high than rolling up leaves from your lawn and smoking them. Some 212 million such plants were killed by police.

The Democrats might want to take a look at the billion dollar drug war industrial complex, rather than continuing to blindly support it out of fears more relevant to a pre-9/11 than a post 9/11 world.