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February 2006
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Wall Street Journal – Intelligent Drug War Piece

This is a must-read in the Wall Street Journal: Global View by George Melloan: Musings About the War on Drugs (alternate link)

Economist Milton Friedman predicted in Newsweek nearly 34 years ago that Richard Nixon’s ambitious “global war against drugs” would be a failure. Much evidence today suggests that he was right. But the war rages on with little mainstream challenge of its basic weapon, prohibition. […]

The drug war has become costly, with some $50 billion in direct outlays by all levels of government, and much higher indirect costs, such as the expanded prison system to house half a million drug-law offenders and the burdens on the court system. Civil rights sometimes are infringed. One sharply rising expense is for efforts to interdict illegal drug shipments into the U.S., which is budgeted at $1.4 billion this fiscal year, up 41% from two years ago.

That reflects government’s tendency to throw more money at a program that isn’t working. Not only have the various efforts not stopped the flow but they have begun to create friction with countries the U.S. would prefer to have as friends.

He goes on to describe the destabilizing effects of the war on drugs in Latin America, and then:

Milton Friedman saw the problem. To the extent that authorities curtail supplies of marijuana, cocaine and heroin coming into the rich U.S. market, the retail price of these substances goes up, making the trade immensely profitable — tax-free, of course. The more the U.S. spends on interdiction, the more incentive it creates for taking the risk of running drugs.

In 1933, the U.S. finally gave up on the 13-year prohibition of alcohol — a drug that is by some measures more intoxicating and dangerous to health than marijuana. That effort to alter human behavior left a legacy of corruption, criminality, and deaths and blindness from the drinking of bad booze. America’s use of alcohol went up after repeal but no serious person today suggests a repeat of the alcohol experiment. Yet prohibition is still being attempted, at great expense, for the small portion of the population — perhaps little more than 5% — who habitually use proscribed drugs.

What a breath of fresh air. Intelligence and logic applied to the drug war!
Powerful piece. And he also sees to the heart of the problem of change…

An army of government employees now makes a living from the drug laws and has a rather conflictive interest in claiming both that the drug laws are working and that more money is needed.

Yep. But how do we dismantle that powerful army? ‘Cause right now, we’re living in occupied territory.

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