Is Now The Time To Legalize Drugs?

This may be apocryphal, but when FDR was running for President for the first time in 1932, he said something along the lines of "What America needs now is a good, stiff drink."

Then he won and went on to help end prohibition.

Well, now we've got a new Democratic President coming into office, we're in similarly dire economic straits, and maybe what America needs is a nice toke?

It's time to legalize, or at least decriminalize, drugs. Admittedly this would be a blow to the flourishing prison industry at a time when we don't want to cause additional job losses.

But perhaps we could make up some of those lost prison-guard jobs by opening up new rehab clinics and filling them up with addicts who need treatment.

The voters are miles ahead of the politicians on this issue. Most national politicians would rather admit to using drugs than come out in favor of decriminalizing them. But in Massachusetts, a resolution decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana passed with the support of 65% of voters, despite opposition from the governor on down. The politicians seem to believe it's political suicide to favor a more rational drug policy, and even the massive popularity of measures like Question 2 in Massachusetts can't convince them otherwise.

Barack Obama won't admit that the war on drugs is a failure, but in his autobiography he admitted to doing cocaine in his youth. During the primaries the Clinton campaign tried to gin-up a scandal out of this fact. I think the real scandal is that the President Elect believes that other people should go to prison for something that he, and many others, get away with Scott free. The same goes for Bill Clinton, who smoked marijuana but "never inhaled."

The war on drugs does two things: it makes the business of drugs more profitable and more violent, and it sends lots and lots of people to prison.

Wouldn't it be better if we could bring this business out into the open, slap some taxes on it, and keep people from shooting each other? Of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in this country, more than half are in prison for drug-related offenses. That's unconscionable, and I believe future generations will see this fact, more than the pseudo-legalization of torture under the Bush Administration, as the great moral failing of our time. As the late, great Milton Friedman, an opponent of the War on Drugs from the very beginning when Nixon initiated hostilities, put it, "there is no light at the end of that tunnel. How many of our citizens do we want to turn into criminals before we yell "enough"?"

No one believes that illegal drugs are anything but harmful, but Americans, or at least our leaders, use that fact to stop any discussion of a rational policy to deal with the problem.

I hope the new guy will be different. For now my generation is much more progressive on this issue than older Americans. But I wonder what will happen to younger proponents of decriminalization as they grow up and have children. It's a fact that we can't prevent people from getting their hands on drugs in this country by locking up dealers and using F-16s to spray herbicides all over Colombia. We've tried for over 30 years, and the only thing the policy succeeds at is ruining lives.

What kills me is that nobody seems to care, not about the human cost, or even about the financial cost.

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