A couple of articles published during the past week point to the failure of the drug war as policy.
In Tuesday's Washington Times, A. G. Garcanski reviewed a new book from the conservative American Enterprise Institute entitled An Analytic Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy, by David Boyum and Peter Reuter. He begins his review:
There has always been a certain resistance on the right to the war on drugs. One of the most persuasive texts on that front came in 1972, when the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse put forth a report entitled "Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding." This document recommended decriminalization on the grounds that marijuana and its users did not sufficiently endanger the public safety to warrant criminal penalties.This is not the first time the Washington Times has published a conservative critique of the war on drugs. I replied to one of those, by the Times' police-beat columnist Fred Reed, on May 17, 1996:
President Nixon had no apparent use for the findings of his own commission's study as he ran for re-election. But the report was not without its executive influence. President Carter, early in his term, referred to it when he argued that "penalties against drug use should not be more damaging to the individual than the use of the drug itself. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use."
Despite these strong words, Mr. Carter accomplished precious little on the national level in stemming overzealous enforcement of marijuana prohibition. His successors took a different tack than the one-term Democrat recommended, increasing penalties on drug users and helping the prison-industrial complex grow at nearly-exponential rates to house those caught in the web of illicit narcotics. But despite these efforts, America's drug problem is legendary around the world. With that in mind, as Congress wrestles with the specter of twained budget and trade deficits, it is fair to ask: Why does it seem like the war on drugs is not simply a failure, but the kind of failure that seems more egregious with each passing year?
Many conservatives have wondered the same thing, and have condemned the inefficacy of the effort, especially regarding cannabis. But their often emotional appeals have yet to resonate with national policy leaders. In that context, the utility of this slender volume becomes clear. Using arguments rooted largely in cost-benefit analysis, the authors neatly debunk the drug war as it is currently fought. Decrying the lack of "strong empirical evidence of substantial effectiveness" of the effort, the scholars suggest that the drug war's advocates be charged with providing said evidence.
Columnist Fred Reed is right on target when he says "Legalization of some drugs is worth a try" ("Police Beat," April 29). Like alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and 30s, drug prohibition has been a miserable failure, bringing in its wake pain, suffering, and the enrichment of gangsters and hoodlums.Meanwhile, last week in the Roanoke Times, Ronald Fraser of the DTK Liberty Project, a civil-liberties group, reported on a study released by Jon B. Gettman, a senior fellow at George Mason University's School of Public Policy in Fairfax, Virginia, which notes, among other findings, that (in Fraser's words):
Mr. Reed joins a chorus of conservative voices who have identified the drug war's futility, including Nobel-prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and commentator William F. Buckley, Jr.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, Buckley's magazine, National Review, which almost singlehandedly buoyed the conservative movement through the dark days of the Great Society, featured a cover story proclaiming the failure of the drug war.
If we really want to end the killing in the streets, if we want to preserve what is left of family and community values in our inner cities, if we want to pull the rug out from under wealthy criminal drug dealers, we must end drug prohibition. Why should conservatives assume that the government can succeed in the drug war's social engineering, when it fails in its every other intervention in the economy, from minimum-wage laws to welfare to farm subsidies?
Let's be consistent: To reduce the size and scope of government and to protect our constitutional rights to life and liberty, end the drug war before it's too late.
Virginians spend about $99 million each year to enforce state and local marijuana laws. What are taxpayers getting for their money? Not much, according to a recent study.Fraser adds:
Virginians are, in effect, paying for Washington's marijuana prohibition policies. "The use of criminal law to control the availability and use of marijuana," says Gettman, "is a federal policy that is dependent on local law enforcement for its implementation." And state and local costs quickly add up.The costs to taxpayers and the Virginia economy are high, with few positive returns to show for it. Fraser explains:
A Boston University economics professor, Jeffrey A. Miron, estimates that state and local officials spend about $5 billion a year enforcing marijuana laws. Virginia's share is: $31 million for police services; $56 million for judicial services; $12 million for correctional services.
The thousands of persons arrested on marijuana possession charges in Virginia each year -- especially teenagers -- pay extra. "Marijuana arrests," Gettman stresses, "make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens. Indeed, the primary consequence of marijuana arrests is the introduction of hundreds of thousands of young people into the criminal justice system."
And what do Virginians get for these financial and personal costs? In 2002, there were 12,798 marijuana possession arrests in Virginia, but the number of users keeps going up. While 4 percent of Virginia's population was estimated to be monthly users in 1999, in 2002 the estimate stood at 6.4 percent. Nationally, monthly users went from 4.9 percent in 1999 to 6.2 percent in 2002.An alternative to the current system would be to legalize marijuana, regulate it, and tax it, so it can become a source of revenue rather than a drain on the state treasury. Fraser writes:
By shifting to a policy that treats and taxes marijuana like tobacco and alcohol, Virginians could gain the following benefits: a decrease in illegal activities surrounding drug sales; government control of marijuana quality; better control of underage access to marijuana; and removal of the profit motive that attracts sellers, including a substantial number of teenage sellers who, most frequently, supply other teenagers.I can't think of a Virginia politician who is courageous enough to question the wisdom of the drug war in such a clear and concise manner. There is no Gary Johnson (the former Republican governor of New Mexico) here to argue on behalf of Virginia taxpayers that (in Johnson's words):
On top of that, Miron estimates a marijuana sales tax would replace the $99 million a year Virginia taxpayers are now spending to enforce unenforceable laws, with a new revenue pipeline bringing in $20 million a year.
The nation's so-called War on Drugs has been a miserable failure. It hasn't worked. The drug problem is getting worse. I think it is the number one problem facing this country today . . . We really need to put all the options on the table . . . and one of the things that's going to get talked about is decriminalization . . . What I'm trying to do here is launch discussion.Johnson also said, in June 1999:
Common sense or logic would dictate that when you take this issue on, when you talk about legalization or decriminalization, if you are going to talk about that, you are going to talk about taking it in steps, and certainly the first step would be marijuana.What Virginia politician, either Democrat or Republican, elected or aspiring to elective office, will step forward to say that, in both moral terms and according to a cost-benefit analysis, the war on drugs is a failure and should be replaced with something more sensible? As Goethe said, "Be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid."
All of us can make a list out of friends that have used drugs. Are our friends criminals for using drugs? Yes, they are today given the laws that we have. Should they be criminals? Are they criminals? For the most part, no they are not.