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Good News on the Drug War Front

Standing Up for Federalism

In response to the justice department’s new war on medical marijuana, some lawmakers are speaking out against federal raids. Oregon Reps. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point) and Sal Esquivel (R-Medford), along with Sen. Alan Bates (D-Ashland) all criticized the federal government’s raids on medical marijuana growers in their state, with Rep. Richardson saying, “[i]t is not appropriate for the federal government to come in and assume authority just because they have the power to do so.” While it’s nice to see some politicians standing up for federalism, this sentiment isn’t exactly common. The federal government must relent and simply let states design their own preferred drug policy.

New Poll Shows Record Support for Marijuana Legalization 

On Monday, Gallup released a poll showing a record high 50% of Americans – up from last year’s 46% – support legalizing marijuana compared to 46% against. Now, even though I don’t favor adopting public policy based on the whims of public opinion, the news of this poll result is most welcome. In spite of the federal government’s tireless effort at fear mongering, finally, a majority of Americans recognize the absurdity of the government’s position on marijuana. At this rate, the government won’t be able to continue ignoring the American peoples sentiments regarding prohibition – hopefully leading to serious, concrete changes to the nation’s drug laws. The most fascinating thing I found in the poll is 49% of those aged 50-64 favor legalization. I figured support among that age bracket would be significantly higher than the 65+ plus crowd (31%), maybe by around ten points. But the eighteen-point spread clearly shows support for legalization is not just a generational phenomenon. This poll represents the legitimate shift in the way the country’s been thinking about the drug war over the past ten, fifteen years – and not just by young people. A most welcome sight, indeed.

As an aside, I highly recommend this outstanding piece on the drug war by Doug Bandow over at Forbes. It’s lengthy but no doubt worth reading. Here’s a taste:

Arresting and jailing people because they use a substance which some people abuse is dubious enough on moral grounds.  Even more it fails the test of cost-effectiveness.

As Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman argued:

“We need not resolve the ethical issue to agree on policy.  Prohibition is an attempted cure that makes matters worse for both the addict and the rest of us.”

Banning drugs raises their price, creates enormous profits for criminal entrepreneurs, thrusts even casual users into an illegal marketplace, encourages heavy users to commit property crimes to acquire higher-priced drugs, leaves violence the only means for dealers to resolve disputes, forces government to spend lavishly on enforcement, corrupts public officials and institutions, and undermines a free society.  All of these effects are evident today and are reminiscent of Prohibition (of alcohol) in the early 20th Century.

Perhaps the most obvious cost of enforcing the drug laws is financial.  Government must create an expansive and expensive enforcement apparatus, including financial and military aid to other governments.  At the same time, the U.S. authorities must forgo any tax revenue from a licit drug market.  According to Harvard’s Jeffrey A. Miron and doctoral candidate Katherine Waldock, in the U.S. alone “legalizing drugs would save roughly $41.3 billion per year in government expenditure on enforcement of prohibition” and “yield tax revenue of $46.7 billion annually.”

The Drug War also has corrupted private and public institutions wherever it has reached.  Worst are bribes to police, border control officials, Drug Enforcement Agency agents, and even military personnel involved in interdiction efforts.  The taint also reaches prosecutors, judges, and politicians.

The problem is serious enough in the U.S.  Worse, militarized enforcement, relentlessly pushed by Washington, has helped corrupt and destabilize entire nations, such as Colombia, Afghanistan, and Mexico.

Prohibition is advanced to protect users from themselves.  However, the illegal marketplace makes drug use more dangerous.  According to noted economists Daniel K. Benjamin and Roger Leroy Miller, “Many of the most visible adverse effects attributed to drug use … are due not to drug use per se, but to our current public policy toward drugs.”

Products are adulterated; users have no means of guaranteeing quality.  Given the threat of discovery, dealers prefer to transport and market more potent (and thus both more concealable and valuable) drugs.  As a result, the vast majority of “drug-related” deaths are “drug law-related” deaths.

Moreover, AIDS spread through the sharing of needles by IV drug users, who cannot purchase needles legally.  In the same way, the drug war has helped spread hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases.

Image via flickr user The Stacia

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