Here is a modest and sensible proposal:

When Franklin D. Roosevelt came into office, one of the first things he did was end Prohibition. He did this for several reasons centered fundamentally on the fact that Prohibition was both bad and failed policy. Outlawing alcohol did virtually nothing to stop alcohol use in the United States, but it did produce severe social costs in terms of increased criminality among smugglers, lower tax revenues, and greater and more corrupt policing. Importantly, it also normalized illegal behavior by otherwise law abiding citizens, as reasonable people chose simply to ignore the unreasonable law so they could enjoy an adult beverage responsibly.

One unintended consequence of prohibition was a great investment in alcohol production and smuggling activity in Mexico. Some of the best known Mexican beer producers got their start directly as a result of the misguided decision on the part of the United States to squelch its domestic producers. As Gabriela Recio (among others) has demonstrated, prohibition created and expanded the markets for Mexican smugglers of booze and drugs and set up the precedents for today's trade.

It is indisputable that today the U.S. "war on drugs" has been a failure in every direction--interdiction, treatment, prevention, education. American illegal drug consumption continues at historically high rates with the corresponding effect that drug producing states like Columbia, Mexico, and Afghanistan have their economies corroded by overwhelming incentives to supply this insatiable appetite.

In interesting ways, the effects of American drug addiction and use are directly analogous to the national addiction to oil--the core of a dysfunctional system that distorts every aspect of the national political economy it touches, destroys communities, wastes energy and money, and enriches and empowers bad guys abroad.

The Drug War has successfully consumed billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars, led to the incarceration of millions of Americans, underwritten wholesale invasions of the right to privacy in America, and helped to spread horrific violence, chaos, and American military interventionism in dozens of countries around the world. The continued and unchecked expansion of the War on Drugs has done absolutely nothing to stop the use and supply of drugs. That is to say, the War on Drugs has done nothing but to further fuel an endless War on Drugs. This "War" is getting along quite handily. But that is not its stated intent, no?

Mexico, to pick an undeniably important example, is well on its way to becoming a failed narco-state as a result of the U.S. drug war. The drug violence there (which is producing the equivalent of an Iraq War a year in Mexico in terms of 4000+ murders) is directly linked to powerful and rich drug gangs jockeying for position in the U.S. market and seeking to prevent the weak Mexican state from interfering with their efforts. The drug kingpins are responsible for their evil violence, period. But the root cause of this violence is the American drug user-- recreational drug users across the spectrum from suburban teenage pot smokers to crack heads. The desire for drugs spawns violence among drug gangs in the same way that the desire for cheap gasoline spawns irresponsible oil kingdoms like Saudi Arabia sponsoring Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organizations.

Barack Obama should take one more page out of the Roosevelt game book and end the destructive and self-defeating prohibition on drugs. In so doing, he would liberate billions of dollars of federal money for other, more productive uses and simultaneously open up a new field for very rich taxation of legally produced narcotics for a carefully regulated national market. Already the most valuable crops produced in many agricultural states is marijuana--and especially so in economically marginal states like those in Appalachia. Ending the prohibition on drugs would free these areas to produce and market valuable and highly taxable commodities to American consumers. This effort, and the ripple effect of business activity would follow in the wake of a new and highly lucrative market, can only have a powerful stimulus impact on the weak American economy. It would also directly and swiftly undercut the power and money of the Mexican drug gangs, ending violence and giving the Mexican state the room it needs to bring stability, order, and peace back. What is not to like?

The world's most dangerous drug, alcohol, is legal, regulated, taxed, and controlled. In Virginia, the state runs the sale of hard liquour and profits handily from it. The same can be done with narcotics, for the benefit of the nation as a whole.

A good place to start learning about the depth of the failures in the drug war is at Common Sense for Drug Policy and particularly in their report on the drug war, available free here.


Sabrina said…
This is one of the most clear-cut, objective,honest, observation of the drug war I have ever read.

"The desire for drugs spawns violence among drug gangs in the same way that the desire for cheap gasoline spawns irresponsible oil kingdoms like Saudi Arabia sponsoring Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organizations."
DM said…

The sad thing is, oil is far worse for society in terms of its total cost than recreational narcotic use, but the military is deployed to protect the oil supply and to fruitlessly attempt to stop the drug flow, and both acts only serve to empower the bad guys on the other end of the pipe.

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