Just Say Yes

By: - December 5, 2008 11:10 am

Imagine my surprise at agreeing whole-heartedly with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. I was not just agreeing, mind you, I was actively enthused to see a topic I feel so strongly about being aired in the WSJ, though it is not typically even on a progressive agenda. There would have been fist pumping if I engaged in that sort of thing. It only got better when I discovered the N&O was running Froma Harrop’s column with the same message: It’s time to end the prohibition on drugs.

Sure, drug addiction is a terrible disease with many more victims than actual sufferers, and, sure, narcotics are insalubrious in the extreme, draining productivity and creativity in communities that could use a lot more of those precious commodities. But the War on Drugs is worse than anything we would see with a legal, controlled drug market. If you think it hasn’t been a war on young, urban, black men, you’ve got your head somewhere nasty. If you think it hasn’t created a vicious culture of corruption and violence in south and central America, you’re nuts. Like the Cat in the Hat’s spot, the horror of the War on Drugs can only be moved, never erased. Witness Colombia, finally achieving some peace as Mexico City falls victim to the sickness caused by profits only a black market can offer. Finally, look at our own cities and nation:

Consider the consequences of drug prohibition today: 500,000 people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails for nonviolent drug-law violations; 1.8 million drug arrests last year; tens of billions of taxpayer dollars expended annually to fund a drug war that 76% of Americans say has failed; millions now marked for life as former drug felons; many thousands dying each year from drug overdoses that have more to do with prohibitionist policies than the drugs themselves, and tens of thousands more needlessly infected with AIDS and Hepatitis C because those same policies undermine and block responsible public-health policies.”

If that doesn’t move you, if you’re someone who figures those people would end up sick or in jail anyway, think about Harrop’s point:

Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that legalizing drugs would save federal, state and local governments $44 billion in enforcement costs. Governments could collect another $33 billion in revenues were they to tax drugs as heavily as alcohol and tobacco.”

For a lot of people, that kind of capital is going to mean more than the terrible way the War on Drugs has squandered human capital around the globe for decades. In that case the dreadful state of the economy may prove helpful to those who believe, as I do, that the prohibition of drugs is far worse than the sad acceptance of them could ever be. As the Journal points out:

[T]here’s nothing like a depression, or maybe even a full-blown recession, to make taxpayers question the price of their prejudices. That’s what ultimately hastened prohibition’s repeal, and it’s why we’re sure to see a more vigorous debate than ever before about ending marijuana prohibition, rolling back other drug war excesses, and even contemplating far-reaching alternatives to drug prohibition.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.