04/08/2009 12:00 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Thinking About Legalizing Drugs

By Stephen C. Rose

Let's start with the fact that many of our drug problems involve drugs that are completely legal. The pain pill variety and various others.

If we cannot control what is legal, how do we get off advocating legalization of what is not permitted? It all seems to be part of the same dance, tinged with lethal violence, draconian prison sentences and misery from the use of these wretched props, these robbers of freedom, these testaments to the low functionality of our society, our world.

So let's think deeper.

My own sense is that until we have communities that do not encourage the widespread dependence on drugs, we will not get vary far. Such communities would redeem public space. They would have the security that Jane Jacobs evoked when she talked about sitting on the front stoops and keeping an eye out.


But I have been hammered enough for thinking this way and the Obama Administration gives no real indication of taking this fundamental suggestion seriously, at least not yet. And I know of no VC folk or entrepreneurs who are really interested in an adventure to create visionary communities.

So let's forget restructuring at the root and see what bandaids make sense.

BANDAID ONE -- Ending draconian imprisonment of nonviolent folk who got caught dealing.

BANDAID TWO -- Ending the language of war when it comes to drugs. Drugs are mainly good for something and bad when misused, overused or turned into a mini-economy that operates outside the law.

BANDAID THREE -- Some widespread and effective protest against the death march TV hawking of drugs that have more warnings than positive expressions. Who in god's name is going to go to their MD and talk about a drug that a TV hawker admits can kill you?

BANDAID FOUR -- Obama Bullly Pulpit. Surely the President can make an anti-drug case better than his predecessors. Drugs as a sign of national weakness, flaccidity, dysfunction.

Moving beyond these minor nudges, I believe the President is most in favor of ways to create a new economy. So why not massively increase the options for drug control and treatment. A million drug professionals more than we now have would perhaps draw mainly on former users or even current responsible users.

The President has already signaled that he will not cotton to the legalization of pot. That is too bad. It is a good starting point and it might even help stem the widespread and massively more harmful dependence on alcohol.

Face it we are not dealing with this because the degree of difficulty is probably a 10 when dealing with Iraq is a 6 and with medical care reform a 7.5. The President would be right to say, Not now.

But it is not too early to start building a mountain of texts that will eventually register.

Just say no the war on drugs.

Just say yes to the creation of something like state liquor stores to deal with the legal sale of drugs.

Just say yes to the creation of better security in the face of lethal adventurism by illegal purveyors of drugs. This last is not an inconsiderable concession to the intractability of the problem, whether or not drugs are legal or not.

Ultimately drugs will be legalized. Reason takes eons to prevail. The more who speak for this position, the sooner it becomes real.