Einstein, insanity and the war on drugs

By Bernd Debusmann
December 3, 2008

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. His definition fits America’s war on drugs, a multi-billion dollar, four-decade exercise in futility.

The war on drugs has helped turn the United States into the country with the world’s largest prison population. (Noteworthy statistic: The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population and around 25 percent of the world’s prisoners). Keen demand for illicit drugs in America, the world’s biggest market, helped spawn global criminal enterprises that use extreme violence in the pursuit of equally extreme profits.

Over the years, the war on drugs has spurred repeated calls from social scientists and economists (including three Nobel prize winners) to seriously rethink a strategy that ignores the laws of supply and demand.

Under the headline “The Failed War on Drugs,” Washington’s respected, middle-of-the-road Brookings Institution said in a November report that drug use had not declined significantly over the years and that “falling retail drug prices reflect the failure of efforts to reduce the supply of drugs.”

Cocaine production in South America stands at historic highs, the report noted.

Like other think tanks, Brookings stopped short of recommending a radical departure from past policies with a proven track record of failure such as spending billions on crop eradication in Latin America and Asia while allotting paltry sums in comparison to rehabilitating addicts.

Enter Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization started in 2002 by police officers, judges, narcotics agents, prison wardens and others with first-hand experience of implementing policies that echo the prohibition of alcohol. Prohibition, now widely regarded a dismal and costly failure of social engineering, came to an end 75 years ago this week.

As LEAP sees it, the best way to fight drug crime and violence is to legalize drugs and regulate them the same way alcohol and tobacco is now regulated. “We repealed prohibition once and we can do it again,” one of the group’s co-founders, Terry Nelson, told a Washington news conference on December 2. “We cannot arrest our way out of this problem.”


“In the 20s and 30s, we had Al Capone and his gangsters getting rich and shooting up our streets,” said Nelson, who spent a 32-year government career fighting drugs in the U.S. and Latin America. “Today we have criminal gangs, cartels, Taliban and al-Qaeda profiting from the prohibition of drug sales and wreaking havoc all over the world. The correlation is obvious.”

The before-and-after sequence is so obvious that the U.S. Congress passed a resolution in September noting that the 1933 repeal of alcohol prohibition had replaced a “dramatic increase” in organized crime with “a transparent and accountable system of distribution and sales” that generated billions of dollars in tax revenues and boosted the sick economy.

That’s where advocates of drug legalization want to go now, and some of them hope that the similarities between today’s deep economic crisis and the Great Depression will result in a more receptive audience for their pro-legalization arguments among lawmakers and government leaders.

The budgetary impact of legalizing drugs would be enormous, according to a study prepared to coincide with the 75th anniversary of prohibition’s end by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron. He estimates that legalizing drugs would inject $76.8 billion a year into the U.S. economy — $44.1 billion through savings on law enforcement and at least $32.7 billion in tax revenues from regulated sales.

Miron published a similar study in 2005 looking only at the budgetary effect of legalizing marijuana, the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. That study was endorsed by more than 500 economists, including Nobel laureates Milton Friedman of Stanford University, George Akerlof of the University of California and Vernon Smith of George Mason University.

“We urge…the country to commence an open and honest debate about marijuana prohibition,” the economists said in an open letter to President George W. Bush, congress, governors and state legislators. “At a minimum, this debate will force advocates of current policy to show that prohibition has benefits sufficient to justify the cost to taxpayers, foregone tax revenues and numerous ancillary consequences that result from marijuana prohibition.”

The advocates of current policy, led by outgoing President George W. Bush’s drug czar, John Walters, never took up the challenge to discuss cost-benefit equations. His Office of National Drug Control Policy has focused, with the single-minded determination of a moral crusader, on doing the same thing over and over again.

But the United States is not alone in pursuing drug strategies that are based more on wishful thinking than on sober analysis. If you put faith in declarations by the United Nations, a “drug-free world” is an attainable goal and the war on drugs all but over.

In 1998, a special session of the U.N. General Assembly forecast that the illicit cultivation of the coca bush, the cannabis plant and the opium poppy would be eliminated or significantly reduced by the year 2008, a deadline that also applied to “significant and measurable results in the field of demand reduction.”

The clock is ticking towards midnight, December 31, 2008.

— You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters.com. For more columns by Bernd Debusmann, click here. —

Want to debate? Send in your written submissions to debate@thomsonreuters.com.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

i belive that the united states could benefit very nicely if marijuana was legalized. If they put a little tax on every ounce or pound we could pull this country out of debt and not have to pay for stricter law enforecement because tehy wouldnt have to be. Also if marijuana would be legal all the crooked cops out there would have nothing to do and maybe become a straight regular cop again. I know from first hand experience that there are crooked cops out there We have two in my hometown and they have nothing better to do then to harass all the kids who just want to smoke a little herb and have fun. Remember LEGALIZE DONT CRITICIZE!!!!!!!!!

legalize. ha duh
name 2 things thats wrong with it……you can’t!

Posted by greg | Report as abusive

it is a nice idea, but regardless of the fiscal results, this is not likely to happen. for a long time the message has been that drugs are bad even though the 2 most deadly ones are legal.

Posted by dave | Report as abusive

First finance system was stolen, next education was corrupted, then livelyhoods were destroyed, leading to the largest population of enslaved dumbed down persons in one country. Now we’re told to legally take drugs as an antidote to our drug problem which leads to ensalved dumbed down out of work druggies with no idea what is going on around them. Its a truly sad state of affairs in the best country in the world …. still is but only on Paper no longer in reality……

Posted by Alicat | Report as abusive

Dave, it isn’t going to happen unless citizens like you and I contact our elected officials to tell them that it’s “safe” and that it is what the people really want. You can do so easily at http://www.WeCanDoItAgain.com

Thanks for pointing out the connection between the Taliban’s resurggence and their heroin profits. The War on Terror and the War on Drugs are at odds in Afghanistan and fighting either one will pretty much have to cost us the other.

We need to face the fact that we can’t win the War on Drugs and end prohibition now! We did it once before, with alcohol, we can do it again!!


Alicat, like so many, believe poor character is a by product of drug use. If that was the case, those brave and intelligent men that formed this country would have just been “dumbed down out of work druggies with no idea what is going on around them.” Thank God that was not the case for George Washington and Thomas Jefferson who smoked Pot regularly. They even presented each other with gifts of their latest and greatest. History is a wonderful thing to know. It prevents one from repeating the mistakes of the past. I wonder where this country went wrong. We should have learned from alcohol prohibition.

Posted by B. Free | Report as abusive

Not likely to happen? That’s what they said about the abolition of slavery too. It is important to look ahead and learn from our mistakes. We need to see the big picture. With the legalization of drugs, the black market would be eliminated. As an economist, I know that people respond to incentives. And with a profit motive gone, drug dealers will have no incentive to continue in this “business.”

The key words are control, tax, and regulate. Can you imagine the billions of dollars our economy would take in if drugs were not part of an underground market? And also the billions of dollars it would save by not wasting tax dollars on enforcing this ineffective policy and throwing people in jail?

Change is not impossible. Change is inevitable.

Posted by vk | Report as abusive

The punishment for the crime should not be more detrimental to society than the crime itself. Decriminalize cannabis now!

Alicat, I’m not sure what your point is, but if you’re attacking the article, please refer to the number of people already hooked on legal drugs like painkillers and sleeping pills. Our very doctors and government push these drugs while keeping a God made plant illegal, thus incarcerating countless normal, tax paying citizens.

Stop supporting the prison industry! Decriminalize cannabis!

Posted by John | Report as abusive

How to make easy money by jailing people for smoking weed. This country is going mad. We have bigger problems than a pot smoker. This country his going broke and has been hijack by criminal banksters. WAKE UP before it’s too late!

Posted by Cyberguy | Report as abusive

Yes, and some of these “dumbed down” folks think there is a safe way to separate people from their desires. This person may need some sort of smart drug, but seriously folks, the drug war and liberty are mutually exclusive and I say end the madness, now.
Drug prohibition has become an excuse to deprive individuals of human rights and make them second class citizens, but most still know what is going on around them, unlike the poor lost soul who made the previous comment.
Whether or not “it is likely to happen,” struggling against a policy that causes so much human suffering through broken families due to over incarceration is the right thing to do.

It is refreshing to learn that open dialog about the “War on Drugs” policy may actually become a reality. The social damage being done to USA is enormous. Good grief! In the business world when a plan does not meet its goals within a reasonable time (5 years) it is not continually funded. So why has this program spanned for decades without delivering results? Prohibition does not work and never has. LEAP’s position has merit – legalize, regulate and educate. It would be good for not just America but the world.

Posted by Nancy Nelson-Duac | Report as abusive

When I first heard about LEAP I was closed-minded about their concept. Then I read more about probition and our worlds drug problems and changed my mind. It makes sense and cents to figure out how this would work. As long as funds for educators becomes available teaching the young about the proper way to avoid addictions it would work. Good luck!!

Posted by Anne | Report as abusive

The financial crisis has created a great opportunity to end drug prohibition. The amount of money that could be saved by ending the war on drugs and made by taxing revenue on newly legalized substances could pay for all sorts of social services and safety nets that the US is either underfunding or lacks all together. It’s time to stop treating a medical issue as a criminal issue, it’s just another burden the US cannot afford. Check out http://www.WeCanDoItAgain.com for more information on this.

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

Just look at two things. All the tax revenue we could collect from the LEGAL sale of drugs [not just marijuana].

Two look at all the crime the ILLEGAL sale of drugs produces.

The choice is clearly simple. Too bad we got to many hypocrits in this country who are “legally” drugged up, but can’t draw a correlation between drugs and DRUGS…it’s all the same people. If you take anti-depressants you are drugged everyday. Man… this is almost criminal. Only in america am I right? home of the “legally” drugged up hypocrits. The only thing this war on drugs sustains is the judicial systems intake of profit form court cases, and that normally law abiding citizens become criminals. I vote we just return to the old west ways. Hell everyone was on drugs then, just like today. Not much has changed. Just the tightness of people sphincters.

Posted by james | Report as abusive

Mr. Debusmann ignores the reality I live in. We finally installed a no drug policy 10 years ago after 1/2 of our work force was on drugs. There were accidents, constant thefts, low productivity, high absenteeism, etc. Additionally, many of our drug addicted employees were locked into emotional childhood. Even if it were legal, we would hire no drug users. To do otherwise is insanity in a manufacturing plant. We offered free rehab to any employee. Only two people took us up on it, none succeeded. To compare lower addictive alcohol behavior, earning capacity, etc. to higher addictive drugs doesn’t balance. Alcohol has the potential to destroy lives, but nothing like addictive drugs.

Posted by Frank | Report as abusive

Drug prohibition has not stopped drug use.

We spend to the tune of 20 billion a year in pork for the war on drugs. Ad Agencies get to sell their demonstrably failed propaganda (D*A*R*E) at ridiculous tax payer rates. What’s left goes to counter the will of voters in the form of propaganda against ballot initiatives, international conferences, subsidies to “faith based” organizations, etc etc.

The people addicted to War on Drugs pork money, are now the only reason this stupidity continues.

That’s why its NOT insanity, its insanity only if the objective was to end the use of drugs. That has never been achievable. On the other hand, perpetually safe jobs for the bureaucrats (and LEO ) is the trick.

I say give them what they want, transform every agency receiving funds from the DEA to Homeland Security. Legalize all drugs and keep the drug warriors as “terror warriors”.

Everyone will feel better then.

Posted by Aleph | Report as abusive

Drugs Prohibition is a mirror of alcohol Prohibition, but its failures are on a scale that dwarfs the former prohibitive attempt at faux moralist social engineering. The mere appearance of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition in the debate is further indication that we are repeating that which has gone before. Just as back then, we now have a growing body of professional opposition to this disaster disguised as policy.

Which is more important? Maintaining sado-moralist, punishment oriented, Constitution destroying policies… or… turning the “Land of the Most Incarcerated” back into the “Land of the Free”?

Bravo Mr Debusmann on a well done piece!

Humbly submitted from beautiful Eugene, OR.

Frank has got the wrong idea about drugs and the workforce. Making drugs illegal does nothing to solve that problem. Good management solves that problem, by firing people who show up stoned, whether it’s on legal drugs like alcohol, or illegal drugs like pot. A good manager knows the difference between a capable, reliable, productive worker who smokes a joint or drinks a beer on the weekend, and someone who lets their personal problems of any kind show up at work.

And I’m blown away by Frank’s notion that alcohol has less potential to destroy lives than “addictive drugs.” (Especially since alcohol is more addictive than illegal marijuana.) Alcohol has destroyed way more lives than all illegal drugs combined. Even still, that’s no reason to make alcohol, or any other drug, illegal — criminalization doesn’t solve drug abuse problems — it just creates other problems. That again, is something we should have learned from the first failed prohibition.


You make very good points (as usual). In theory, I don’t think that the government should protect a rational adult from him-or-herself and the financial and social costs of doing so has been ruinous (more ruinous for some, less for others).

In practice, it would be difficult to do, but I wouldn’t say impossible. I have ideas about some poetential aspects of a move towards medicalization and legalization. In no particular order, first, we would need to truly classify alcohol and nicotine as drugs. The FDA would need jurisdiction of them as well as newly legalized and medicalized drugs. Second, the ATF (Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms) never made sense and it will make less sense in the future. Alcohol and tobacco would need to go to the DEA, firearms to the FBI. Third, it would be absurd to start having marijuana commercials on television. By the same token, alcohol commercials are absurd. The decision to use drugs should be made by an adult, it is in the interest of the state to keep marketing out ofthe equation by law. Fourth, hard drugs would probably need to come first. This is because legalization can often have the unintended affect of making the substance harder to get for minors. Young people often find it easier to get marijuana than legal alcohol. We don’t want teenagers getting cocaine because they were unable to get legalized marijuana.

The list goes on. I think it’s doable, but will take time and a great deal of thought. That makes me think that the process should start sooner rather than later.

Posted by Ken | Report as abusive

Only 11.2% of Americans believe the ‘War on Drugs’ is working (Sept 2008 Zogby Poll). But, asking Americans to legalize hard core drugs like meth, heroin or cocaine may be asking too much. On the other hand, 280,000+ people have responded to the TIME Poll, in which 87.3% favor the legalization of marijuana/cannabis. Many highly lauded studies have proven that cannabis is less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco and these drugs are legally sold to adults. Many other highly regarded studies call for a regulated market for cannabis sales, just like we have for alcohol and tobacco. Like these studies, most Americans have rightly concluded that cannabis prohibition itself is far more harmful to our society than cannabis use is. How does prohibtion keep our teens from getting hold of cannabis? It doesn’t. Our teens say they can easily get cannabis within one hour. They say it’s easier for them to get cannabis than alcohol or tobacco. Because, drug dealers will sell cannabis to anyone, regardless of age. While licensed merchants are compliant for age restrictions 90% of the time. A regulated market will remove the profit motive for criminals to sell cannabis. Only this will keep them from trafficking in cannabis. Americans know it’s time to leave behind the magical thinking that cannabis will one day be controlled by prohibition. Our government has abdicated from it’s responsibility to regulate cannabis and by default drug cartels have taken over it’s control. Cannabis use is commonplace, widespread and nothing is going to make it go away. The only question is who’s going to control it? we the people, or gangsters who don’t pay taxes and get more wealthy, corruptive and powerful everyday that prohibition remains in effect?

Posted by T. Sellers | Report as abusive

It kills me I have to submit a bodily fluid or have my hair cut just to work in this country. Can you imagine our grandparents reaction if someone told them “We’d really like you to work here. Please pee in our cup?”.

Give me a break!

Posted by mr.fuku | Report as abusive

Legalize all drugs? Even dangerous ones? Maybe, I dont know. But I know we should legalize pot.
It is not dangerous. The test for whether a drug is dangerous is if you find yourself with a big pile of it (ie many doses) can you die by making a mistake.
If you compare the risk in having available to you for example; two ounces of grass, a 40 of vodka or several grams of coke (or H, or rock, meth or any number of prescription drugs etc), the hard drugs will kill you that very night if you make a dosage mistake and do too much.
The booze you will just vomit. The natural digestive escape valve. Very rare to die directly from alcohol consumption. You have to make a real effort. Efforts at mass pot smoking usually result in getting disracted.
Probably hard to die from coca leaf chewing or opium smoking. The ancient ways of getting buzz, things growing in your back yard or brewing in a jar have incorporated themselves into human society through time fairly safely.
Its when the men in the white lab coats turn it into white powder then it becomes dangerous.
I wish people would make that distinction.

We’ve had a war on poverty, drugs, and terror. We have managed to lose all three. Now that we know one can’t win a war against a noun, maybe we should consider directing our resources and energies into some more fruitful enterprises.

Regarding the insanity observation by Einstein, if memory serves I believe there have been more than 10 recessions since World War I. Most of them subsequent to the easing of investment regulatory measures. Karl Marx aptly observed unfettered capitalism’s propensity for moving through boom to bust cycles repeatedly. Yet we undo common sense regulation that were established to prevent poor business practices from becoming place again.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Has anyone ever compared the death rate of “illegal” and prescription drugs compared to that of the legal drugs… nicotine and tobacco. I bet it would be very eye opening.

Anectdotal stories like Frank’s don’t carry much weight with me. It is just “hearsay” and could be from one of many other reasons. The American workforce, on whole, does not seem very reliable, now-a-days!

But, I could be wrong! When I ran a business, I treated my people right, chose my workforce form more reliable individuals, and had zero trouble with them.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Legalizing marijuana is a much bigger step than just taking it off of the lawbooks.

The US signed onto the UN conventions for drug control. These UN conventions are international treaties.

As an international treaty, it is very special in the eyes of the US Constitution. Article 6 clearly, unambiguously, makes ratified international treaties as part of the US Constitution… “law of the land”, if you read it.

Now, keeping this in mind, the only way to legalize marijuana is to leave the treaty, leave the UN, or amend the constitution. None of these are likely going to happen, especially anytime soon.

We can have decriminalization, but according to the treaty, penalties ARE required.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

Articles like this give me hope for America. someday people will realize the sheer insanity of institutions like the D.E.A. and the peoples voice will be heard. let the truth ring out!

Posted by Sean | Report as abusive

What a great article – the author absolutely nailed it! LEAP being on the scene is a sign of the times, a sign that the people are far, far ahead of the vast majority of politicians on this issue. We can fix that if enough of us contact our legislators and LEAP makes that very easy; just go to http://www.wecandoitagain.com

Frank, ALCOHOL IS the most commonly used and abused drug in the United States. http://www.bookrags.com/research/product ivity-effects-of-alcohol-on-edaa-02/ It’s obvious you don’t know what you’re talking about when you compare alcohol to higher addictive drugs. Alcohol and tobacco are the most common, most deadly, debilitating and addictive drugs. Bar none. The U.S. Govt says Alcohol kills 150,000+ Americans yearly. Tobacco kills 450,000+ Americans yearly. All illegal drugs combined kill about 25,000 Americans yearly. Cannabis kill no one, ever. You say, “even if it were legal, we would hire no drug users”. Wrong, you certainly do employ drug users and the drugs they use are legal. Those drugs are alcohol and tobacco and they cause more of the problem you describe than all other drugs combined. If, as you say, 1/2 of your work force was on drugs and you’re blaming all these problem on drugs you’re wrong again. What you had was irresponsible hiring practices and you hired irresponsible people. Would you claim that any who has a couple of beers and some marlboros after the work day is over is abusing drugs? No. The average cannabis user is a resposible, successful person. They don’t abuse cannabis either. But, the drug users we do see are the irresponsible ones. Like skid row bums. Do skid row bums reflect the majority of alcohol users. No. The reality of the world we all live in is that almost all adults use some kind of drug. Even if it’s just caffeine. Yes, even caffieine kills 2000 Americans yearly (NIDA) and adversely effects people with heart of circulatory problems. Unfortunately, frank has blamed bad business practices and the worlds problems on drugs. But, drug prohibition itself does more harm to society than drug use does. That’s why our #2 most destructive drug (alcohol) is no longer prohibited. But, is sold to adults by licensed outlets. Oh yeah, why would you hire people locked into emotional childhood in the first place?

Posted by T. Sellers | Report as abusive

Mike, The U.S.A. coerced the world into creating the U.N. drug laws. The USA can just as easily coerce the world to end or modify the UN drug laws. Most of the world only obeys the UN drug laws to any extent just because the US continues to coerce them by means of economic threats. The US is the problem.

Posted by T.Sellers | Report as abusive

I was busted last month in New Jersey. I stopped at a rest area on the Turnpike to take a leak and was ambushed by the police who got lucky and found a bag of weed. I am scheduled for court next week. It has cost me $2,000.00 in lawyer fees and I face 6 months in jail and $800.00 in fines. Plus the $300.00 bag of weed that will NOT show up in court as evidence. My lawyer says their excuse is that it goes to the lab for testing, but in reality the cops either keep the weed for themselves (hypocrites and theives) or resell it on the street (criminals).

Had I been busted just 10 miles further north in New York City, I would not have been cuffed, thrown into a jail cell and shackled to a pipe for 3 hours, finger printed and photographed. No, I would have been given a “traffic ticket” and a subsequent fine of $100.00. A 30 minute finagle at worst.

But even that is not acceptable. After 3 visits to Amsterdam, I know that they have it right. We should be following their EXACT example. Sell it in coffeeshops and limit sales to 5 grams per visit. Supply the best weed and hash in the world with no legal ramifications. Accurate counts are guaranteed. 100,000 jobs would be created overnight. Over $500 million a year would be injected into our recessed economy. Millions more would be saved on law enforcement and incarceration.

So why is pot still illegal??

It always boils down to the dollars. Law enforcement is raking in huge profits by arresting unthreatening people like me and collecting huge fines while getting free weed to smoke themselves. At the same time the “legal” drug industry profits even more because of alcohol and tobacco abuse as well as prescription drugs.

Having been through the system has made me VERY ANGRY and now I am doing something about it. I am now politically active in the efforts to legalise marijuana. I hope all of you will join me in contacting your legislators. tell them that the only matter of importance to you is the legalisation of marijuana and that if they do not support our position, you will vote for the other candidate. If the other candidate also refuses, then tell them both you just won’t vote and then BACK UP YOUR POSITION AT THE POLLS!!!!

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

I’ve been following drug law reform for over 10 years now, and I am thrilled about the complete shift in the conversations about this horrible policy. People are beginning to learn what’s happening here, and I’m looking forward to the day when we get honest education about these harshly prohibited substances. Once people see how much is being wasted to fight drugs that are, for the most part, safer than alcohol, these laws will be as gone as the ones that demanded Blacks to drink from separate fountains. Imagine: No more drug dealers. It CAN happen, because drug dealers rely on drug prohibition.

The “war on drugs” is a crime against humanity dressed to look like Superman. The only reason it continues is because people are not speaking out about it enough. If you don’t like a program – ANY program, let your congress person know so that discussion and change will begin soon. That is a very real freedom so enjoy it!
Go HR 5842 – Reschedule that cannabis now!

Excellent tour d’horizon on the War on Drugs. The fact that the former Land of the Free continues to push this war both at home and abroad shows that politicians continue to ignore logic, common sense, and compassion, and dance to Big Pharma’s siren song, much as they have been doing since the 1930s.
Legalisation and control will come, but only when casual tokers come out of the closet and demand it.
It is past time to dismantle the Prison/Industrial/Enforcement machine that benefits from this War on Humanity.

Posted by James D. Fanning | Report as abusive

Let me start by saying im 30 years old and have NEVER even tried smoking pot. Not once. I have never smoked a ciggarette. Its not something i think i would enjoy. That being said i totally agree with whats been said here. The town im from has a serious issue with harrassing the hard working money earning people who try their very level best to just get by and earn an honest living. All the while theres an entire popultation of people who are trafficing and selling to kids among other things. They do not work simply because they dont have to. The governement gives them everything they need why should they work. All of their bills are paid their food is paid for and to top it all off they make a killing off of the hard working guy whos taxes pay his rent. Then on saturday night when the hard working guy decides he wants to smoke a joint he gets arrested and spend the weekend in jail. Monday morning the drug dealer gets out on a pr bond(no money just his word that he will not run) while the hard working guy gets a $1000 fine 2 years probation plus drug abuse classes that he has to foot the bill for at $50 a pop and thats just the first offense. GOD help him if he gets caught again. And why….because he will get up everyday and work the overtime to pay the fines and court costs. I heard a judge tell a drug dealer one day that there was no sense in fining him since he knew he wouldnt pay it.What kind of sense does this make??? I dont know but it sounds a little bit lopsided to me.

Posted by ryan | Report as abusive

Mark ponders: Legalize all drugs? Even dangerous ones? Maybe, I dont know.

TO WHICH I reply in friendly fashion: In the United States of America in the year 2008, literally 99.99% of drugs are in fact LEGAL. Each are subject to one or more levels of federal, state and/or local regulation to protect both consumers and dealers.

Only a very short list of less than a dozen in-demand drugs have been deemed as worthy of diverting billions in US taxpayer dollars and valuable criminal justice resources into the futile and absurd effort to curtail their use.

Thanks for the astute denouncement of the utterly fruitless and counterproductive policy of 21st century Prohibition.

Readers with a sincere interest in helping increase mainstream media coverage of legitimate reform efforts are welcome to contact me at The Media Awareness Project website http://www.mapinc.org/resource

Three Points:

1. Of the 11.2% of Americans who believe the ‘War on Drugs’ is working, how many are directly or indirectly employed by the ‘War on Drugs’: law enforcement (local, state and federal); bureaucratic propagandists (like the cannabis warriors at the U.N. & the DEA/ONDCP); unqualified drug “counselors”; probation officers; judges; DRUG DEALERS OF ALL TYPES; rehabs and all the people they employ; DARE officers; urine/hair-testing companies; people who build/design/run prisons (architect/engineer firms; mega-contractors; wardens; prison administration; prison guards; etc…)?

2. According to another insightful Zogby Poll, 99-Percent of respondents said they WOULD NOT USE HARD DRUGS SUCH AS HEROIN AND COCAINE, IF THEY WERE LEGALIZED. It appears the chicken little scenario is more contrived fear-mongering.

3. Link to Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP): http://www.leap.cc/cms/index.php

Posted by m.brecht | Report as abusive

The Washington DC Transit Police are pushing for random bag checks in the system. Tonight the chief said that if in searching for bombs, they found drugs, of course they’d arrest the holder. At any given time in the metro area, the number of bomb carriers is about zero, but the number of drug users is in the thousands. Guess who will actually be caught?

Posted by Alec | Report as abusive

Aren’t we done with that hoary old segment of society that refuses to acknowledge reality. Heck, I’m over 50, never been arrested, work full time (and am NOT in debt), yet I long for the day when it’s lawful that I could alternate alcohol with marijuana (to reduce the wear on my aging body and enhance the effect on my mind (so as to be better prepared to tolerate Congress).

I’m NOT joking! Religious folks, very older people..STEP ASIDE! I’m tired of you in my way.

Posted by Byron S | Report as abusive

Excellent, excellent piece! Prohibition V2.0 is on its way out, whether it’s apparent or not. It’s a matter of the laws of economics. With our economy tanking, we CAN’T AFFORD to keep our counterproductive drug laws in effect forever. We can’t afford to continually imprison more people than ANY OTHER NATION ON EARTH!

As much as some people would like to keep the War on (some) Drugs going, and as much as I’m sure some would indeed pay any price to imprison people for what they see as “moral offenses,” it just CAN’T work!

Violent crime is violent crime, and drug addiction is a medical problem. The War on (some) Drugs is turning the US into a police state! I truly believe Americans are smarter than this – didn’t we learn ANYTHING from the first utter failure that was Prohibition?

Posted by PSYOP | Report as abusive

With the Swiss accepting a heroin maintenance program and several other European countries doing research along that vein(no pun intended)the North American continent stands virtually alone in it’s vigorous pursuit of a Utopian drug free world.Reality keeps getting in the way and so much money and even more lives will be lost before the moralistic and otherwise baseless prohibition of drugs is put to rest.Money is being made on both sides of the issue to the point where there are such powerful forces aligned against any altering of the status quot with only the taxpayer the loser.I’ve been using the Einstein quote for years as it so perfectly sums up the opposition to drug reform.

Posted by terry mckinney | Report as abusive

It is illegal for a person charged with posession of marijuana at any point in their life to enter the US to vacation or visit. This affects an amazing number of would be tourists. Canadians are denied entry quite often for some transgression years ago. How absurd.
Currently in the US student loans are unavailable to anyone with a drug conviction but the conviction will be overlooked if they wish to join the armed forces. Education of the individual and the opportunity for social and economic advancement has been proven a more effective method of curtailing drug use than darn near anything else.

Posted by elk | Report as abusive

Thanks, Berndt, for starting this brilliant conversation. The statistics of the rhetoric seem to match the poll results in favor of decriminalization. I would propose that the cart and horse are backwards in Alicat’s analysis. The destruction of education and the removal of banking regulation are the results of the erosion of the willingness of individuals to think for themselves. In short, we are too willing to submit to authority rather than decide for ourselves. This is the foundation of bad decisions on the part of drug use. The drug use problem is due to the erosion of self-determination. The finance system was not stolen, the education system was not corrupted. You and I gave them away to people we decided to believe in with our vote.

The real foundation of the strangle-hold of the anti-drug community is uneducated blind following. This leads to blind leadership of a flock that then circles back on its own logic and perpetuates the bad decisions. The point of the research shows this blindness. I won’t take any drug to drown my problem, and nobody is telling you that you should take drugs. Hyperbolic over-reaction is a tool of mis-guided leadership. Please allow this latter-day prohibition to end.

Posted by Carl | Report as abusive

“Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.” – the Omnibibulous Mr. Mencken, some time in the mid 1920s.

Sometimes I imagine drug prohibition to be a collective act of self-flagellation, perhaps the product of some guilt-ridden, inextricable yearning for divine absolution. But it’s always the same poor folk situated at the backside that catch the brunt of the lash!

Or maybe this is just the twisted disposition of the crusading prohibitionist crank writ large on an ambivalent society? After all, this queer species, whether we consider past specimens like Howard Hyde Russell, Billy Sunday and W.J. Bryan or their progeny Bill Bennett, David Murray and John Walters, always effuses the brown stank of masochism in every batch of righteous hot-air. It simply can’t be a coincidence….

LEAP speakers often refer to modern prohibition as, among other things, a moral abomination, and the irony is that their appeal to our just indignation is more on point than all the Anti-Saloon League and Partnership for a Drug Free America harangues against straw men ever were or could be.

Thanks for this article and keep the hot lamp fixed right on these chumps. I believe that, when the drug war is finally over, we’ll all be a little surprised, and delighted, by how rapidly the whole despicable edifice collapsed.

Posted by Mic Bearing | Report as abusive

Illegal drugs are the most profitable business ever invented by man. Because of this, there are multiple forces at work to keep them illegal. Too many powerful people on both sides of the equation would lose too much money if these drugs were legalized. In the U.S., we have entire bureaucracies that would be eliminated. What would the DEA think about giving up the toys, salaries and excitement of their cops and robbers games? It makes no sense to discuss legalization when even decriminalization is an impossible goal – just from an economic standpoint.

Posted by Arthur Schueneman | Report as abusive

Madness, indeed. Robert Heinlein, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, has the main protagonist say, We pass laws to tell us not to do what we don’t want to do anyway. What a radical concept! We pass laws that we all agree with! Except that there’s a lot of laws that are passed that not all that many people agree with. Clearly, given the shear volume of drug offenders in jail, not to mention the millions more who would be in jail if they were able to station a cop in everybody’s home, the US does not have drug laws that we all agree with.

Posted by Jeff | Report as abusive

Well Done, LEAP! America, though, doesn’t believe it will ever happen…though the majority of Americans agree that present policy dosent work.

Hearken back to 1930 when Texas Senator Morris Sheppard, said: “There is as much of a chance of repealing the eighteenth amendment as there is for a humming bird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail. This country is for temperance and prohibition and it is going to continue to elect members of Congress who believe in that.”

3 years later the country ratified the 21st amendment, repealing alcohol prohibition.

The War on Drugs will end–it is just a matter of when.

Posted by Mike Smithson | Report as abusive

Bernd Debusmann’s article is incisive and brilliant, laying bare the facts about drug prohibition and analyzing them with uncommon objectivity and clarity. If everything Debusmann writes is of this quality, he is a world-class journalistic force to be reckoned with.

As is well known in most of the cultivated world today, both at home and abroad, the American people as a whole (excuse me for telling the truth) are phenomenally stupid, as well as ignorant, and beyond doubt crazy according to Einstein’s operational definition of “insanity.” But as the old Far Eastern proverb says, the Fool who persists in his folly will become wise–if he survives his folly. In this case we see that it took the massive failure of Republican policies together with the crash of the national economy to shock enough Americans back to their senses to get Barack Obama elected President. Now that the dazed metaphorical Fool-of-a-Nation called “America” has begun to somewhat wake up from its silly dream that it is God’s Own Country and competent to set the rest of the world aright, in the sense of defining what is true, real, just, or moral for all of humankind (including, needless to say, tens of millions of its own people who don’t buy into either the mentality or the prohibitionist prescriptions of standard-brand Republicanism) it is just possible that what is known in America as the “Culture War” will cool off and begin to wind down over the next four to eight years, the flashy Sarah Palin notwithstanding.

The spectacularly failed and counterproductive “War on Drugs” is a major front in that Culture War, having over the last 40 years turned America into what the late Dr. Timothy Leary of Harvard fame (if I can remember his exact words)–himself slapped with a 30-year federal prison sentence for alleged possession of a single cannabis seed–around 1973 called “an ever-more-dismal and draconian cross between a swamp and a penal colony.”

Barack Obama, as part of his call for sweeping change, has hinted that many of the old ways of doing things, both nationally and globally, are about to bite the dust of history. In particular, his stated plan to go through the federal budget to ruthlessly eliminate policies and programs that don’t work implies that he intends to end America’s Drug War once and for all.

We can be sure that millions of his most dedicated supporters will be dismayed and even furious at him if he doesn’t try very hard to do that. Failure to end the Drug War in timely manner at this opportune moment carries far greater political risks than simply getting the job done. If Obama is unable to marshall support from the now heavily Democratic Congress to pass the necessary legislation, he will be seen as weak, and there will be bitter division within Democratic ranks–as well as escalation of the nation’s Culture War. If nothing else, continuing to spend vast sums of money each year prosecuting and/or keeping a substantial proportion of the population locked up for often minor drug offenses is in the current strained economic climate simply irresponsible, and therefore indefensible.

It is hard to see Barack Obama, with his clear intelligence and pristine character, not to mention grasp of history, as a supporter of the armed Nanny-state, the State which goes by the name of “Thou Shalt Not” and “Just Say No.” For history has never, in the last analysis, been on the side of repression. The Nanny-state is at root in total contradiction to the fundamental principles of the American Revolution and the Constitution itself, that “every man in his castle is king” and that the individual has an absolute right to privacy in all matters that pertain to his or her person and exercise of freedom thereof.

It was, after all, Bill Clinton’s great failing that (having himself confessedly puffed on pot in his earlier days) he caved in to what seemed political expediency and appointed a drug czar who continued much in the repressive tradition of the drug-warring Nixon, Reagan, and the elder Bush. Political expediency is no longer an acceptable excuse for continuation of failed policies that are counterproductive and which harm the Country and its citizens. It is time for the United States of America to wake up, smell the pot, and get itself in line with more progressive democracies around the world that have begun to liberalize their drug laws. This will entail redefining addiction (where it exists) as a medical problem, in addition to assuming a much-needed leadership position in the global drive to once and for all put international drug-smuggling and the illegal drug trade out of business.

Posted by David Ferrell | Report as abusive

It is a well proven fact that the only successful measure in combating drug abuse is non-moralist education and rehabilitation. The successes in combating Crystal Meth, as reported by the Economist in May of this year, is the most vivid example.

Teenagers and economically depressed communities are not receptive to moralist rhetoric and resent the self-rightous fundamentalists that lead the anti-drug crusade.

While implementing systems to control a legal recreational drug industry would provide for a very interesting intellectual challenge the real barrier to legalisation remain religious conviction.

If the religious community can be convinced of the moral virtues of saving they neighbour, rather than condemning them for their sins, which is what their religions dictate anyway, we will start to see real progress.

Posted by Etienne | Report as abusive

The subliminal message delivered in the mainstream press, TV & radio commercials is that drugs are good & can solve your problems, help you feel better & live healthier, longer lives – as long as they are the high-priced drugs distributed legally by the pharmaceutical companies. If it’s not some form of sexual dysfunction, it’s back pain, arthritis, menapause, weight loss, you name it, the pharmaceutical companies have a pill for it.

Health, health & more health for the people of one of the unhealthiest societies in the modern world. But don’t try to take any short cuts out of your problems by self medicating yourself with marijuana or some other substance not condoned by the FDA & the big drug companies……you’ll be arrested & imprisoned for making your own decisions about how you’ll cure what ails you.

The demand for the supply of “illegal” drugs coming into this country is due to the subliminal commercial messages being spewed over the air waves by the deep pocketed pharmaceutical companies who don’t want to share the profits with people distributing a product they can’t control….it’s time to end this insanity, do the right thing America & regulate that which you cannot fight.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

As a retired police detective, I know about drug prohibition from the trenches. We have always been a mosquito on the butt of an elephant. We have seen every drug dealer arrested or killed replaced within days.

Meanwhile drunk drivers and child predators are not caught because we arrest 1.4 million citizens on non-violent drug charges.

One day we will be as wise as our grandparents and end this dysfunctional, immoral policy.