Last week saw the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. In Washington, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) -- a group of former cops and drug-war veterans who have soured on America's war on drugs -- gathered to celebrate the anniversary, and to argue for an end to America's current prohibition on marijuana and more serious drugs.
Essentially, they believe that the war on drugs creates criminals. Richard Van Wickler, a one-time New Hampshire county corrections superintendent, noted during a LEAP conference call last week that despite America's drug laws, 114 million Americans (out of more than 300 million) have used illegal drugs, 35 million in the last year. The law is not much of a deterrent.
World Health Organization researchers found that 42.4 percent of Americans had tried marijuana -- the highest ratio of any of 17 countries surveyed. New Zealand, which has tough drug policies, scored a close second place at 41.9 percent. Dutch residents can buy cannabis at coffee shops, yet less than 20 percent of Dutch respondents said they had tried cannabis. Researchers concluded, "Drug use does not appear to be related to drug policy, as countries with more stringent policies (e.g., the United States) did not have lower levels of illegal drug use than countries with more liberal policies (e.g. The Netherlands.)."
Meanwhile, drug prohibition does work, Van Wickler added, as "a wonderful opportunity for organized crime." LEAP also released a paper by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron, who figured that legalizing drugs could save federal, state and local governments in the United States about $44 billion per year, while taxing drugs could yield $32.7 billion annually. OK, but money is the least persuasive element in LEAP's approach. After all, the federal government could sell citizenship, set up a taxable market for selling organs or legalize prostitution to save and raise money -- while turning Main Street into a hellhole.
Whereas removing the criminal profit motive from the drug trade arguably could make America a safer, better country -- if Washington and state governments went further than decriminalizing drugs, by legalizing and regulating them, and putting drug rings out of business.
Some pro-legalization advocates argue that legalizing drugs will decrease use. I don't buy that. More likely legalizing drugs will increase usage, and that means that some teens will get sucked into a self-destructive vortex. Only a stoned person would see that as good. But it is not as if the system is without cost -- and not just the $44 billion governments spend. The black market fuels criminal gangs and crowns dangerous drug kingpins.