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 “We repealed prohibition once and we can do it again,” one of the group’s co-founders, Terry Nelson, told a Washington news conference on December 2.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/

A previous commenter already drew satirical attention to the op-ed piece by the feather-brained U.S. drug czar, John Walters, in the Wall Street Journal. But to really appreciate the shallow nature of his “Wee winning the drug war” argument, you should read Walters’s piece side by side with an op-ed by Ethan Nadelmann, who argues in favour of legalisation. The two pieces did run alongside each other. Draw your own conclusions:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB12284368 3581681375.html

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB12284372 5720181453.html


Posted by Eric Rioja | Report as abusive




Posted by Glenn Jewett | Report as abusive

We gotta keep drugs illegal.
How else is the U.S. Government going to finance all their blackbag operations?

Posted by Alfred Joe's Boy | Report as abusive

The second paragraph of this article is the telling one. America has the largest prison population in the world. This is EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE, if nothing else, but of course, it is something else. It means many things. It means, for one thing, we now have a commercially run prison system that is actively lobbying for more tough drug laws and longer sentencing guidelines; in essence, pushing us into tyranny for the sake of corporate profit. There are so many things wrong with the drug war as it is being played out, that it makes me want to vomit. Yesterday, on C-Span, an Afghani official named Ashraf Haidari admitted in front of all America that the Taliban justified opium and heroin production by the excuse that THEY do not use it- so it is not against their moral religious imperatives. Instead, they view it as a chemical weapon against the decadent US. Get this straight: by the definition of an Afghani official- the chemical weapons of mass destruction we should be seeking and destroying were not in Iraq, after all. They were under our noses in Afghanistan already. Therefore, we should be fighting the war against drugs at the source- the fields of poppies and coca, and the desert meth labs in the US. Afghanistan and Columbia are killing our citizens with chemical warfare. We need to put troops and planes in situ- screw the governments that aren’t stopping the traffic- and stop the cultivation, at whatever cost. If the problem of addiction will not go away, we can cultivate our own opium and sell it to the junkies. Why let our enemies sell it to them? The “war on terror” is chump-change compared to the cocaine problem. 3000 died in the Twin Towers. 3000 die every day in the drug war, with a million in prison at 30K per year of taxpayer expense. Count that up, eh? A million prisoners at 30K is 30 billion dollars a year for just prisons alone. That is just plain NUTS. What are we, Nazi Germany? Three suggestions: 1) Declare martial law. Kill the heroin and cocaine drug cartels and meth gangs in any way possible, like a real war. No prisoners. 2) Pass laws barring any shipping company, freight service, trucking firm or air carrier from ever doing business in the US ever again if any of their cargo is ever found to be carrying heroin, amphetamine or cocaine. They will, perforce, start searching their own shipping containers at their own expense. 3) Legalize marijuana, and control and tax it like alcohol. It will become a source of tax revenue we can tap to provide drug rehab for the big three drugs, and alcohol- which, by the way, is the most destructive drug of them all.

Posted by David B Ebert | Report as abusive

In case you’re not aware of the insidious effects of the private prisons lobby, just google “private prisons lobbyists” and see what comes up. It’s pretty revolting- Private prisons are a danger to our every freedom as long as prisons are run as a growth industry. In Florida, private prison lobbyists account for an estimated 20% of all political contributions at the state level. Do you think 20% has an effect on the drug laws and policy? You betcha.

Posted by David B Ebert | Report as abusive

AMEN to the above article. When will Americans realize that fighting this is futile and completely backwards approach to the problem. We could spend a fraction on prevention programs while saving millions in the cost of police enforcement, incareration, rehabilitation programs-after one gets out of jail,etc. Problem is, this is (similarly to war) a money making enterprise.
What on earth would our lawyers, judges,jailers, do with all their free time? If the Netherlands can manage this, I think we can.

Posted by andy | Report as abusive

Legalization will generate tax revenues and create new jobs for producing, packaging, marketing, and distribution. The vast majority of American who smoke tobacco and drink alcohol will become immediate consumers of legalized drug products. America can redirect law enforcement resources to violent crime and public safety. And, America could lead the way by bringing innovative products to market.

Posted by Jim Carlin | Report as abusive

December 7th, 2008
6:28 pm GMT

It’s amazing how many naive people with poor skills at reasoning exist. The war on drugs has worked? Anyone who fails to see the connection between drugs such as Patrick says:
marijuana and alcohol are either dense or have a Christian dogmatic ideology. Forget the fact that YES, taxes will be collected and YES, crime will decrease and so will our costly prison population, but how about living in a so-called free society where one can choose the poison of his pleasure? Legalize all drugs, legalize prostitution, legalize physician-assisted suicide and get the government and these irrational religious nuts off our back.
- Posted by Patrick

How about legalizing having sex with children?
There are some on the left who think children like to have sex and it is OK for an adult to have sex with young children ad young as nine years old and younger.
Anything that feels good right?

I’d like to get the perverts of my back!

Liberalism is also a religion and it’s God is a creature who’s head is made of druges, torso of perversion and the legs are ignorance.

You can’t have it both ways. You want, as you call it religious nuts of your back and I want perverted socially irresponsible losers of my back.

If you think prostitution is OK, maybe you should talk to some of the abused women who get beat up by pimps every day and have no way out or else get killed. But then maybe you are a drug using pimp, running under aged girls on the streets because you don’t want to get get a job yourself!

Posted by JenC | Report as abusive

It’s funny how people forget that we already have some very seriously dangerous drugs that are legal — nicotine and alcohol. Liver disease, heart disease, lung cancer and kidney failure take the lives of tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of Americans yearly. For all of you that cry out that it will degrade the human condition, look at what prohibition has done to this country…

Law is NOT morality. Legalizing drugs is not condoning drug use. There are countries that we could use as an example on how to have drugs legalized — Holland being only one.

Posted by Kevin | Report as abusive

The solution is sooooo simple. Put those prisoners to work as slave labor. Get the economy going. Any more questions?

Posted by John | Report as abusive

The ability to legalize marijuana was unfortunately lost with the Clinton hanging of “Big Tobacco”. Inhaling any type of smoke raises cancer risks, so who would voluntarily latch on to the next round of smoking induced torts?

Posted by mick | Report as abusive

I think marijuana legalization makes the most sense. Weed isn’t killing anything but teenage work ethic.

I’m not so sure that the other drugs should be so readily available though, but only for the same reason we don’t just let people buy sticks of dynamite.

Posted by chad slagle | Report as abusive

Wow! Wow! Those who support current policy don’t understand the drug industry and they dont wish to be confused with the facts. The policy will never work, there is too much money involved; and America will sell its soul for $1.50 … Something lawmakers do every day. I live in Miami where the banks, real estate, tourism, and just about every other industry is supported by the drug trade. We have every drug cartel, mafia, terrorists, and gang member living like movie stars because of the trade. The same people on wall street who brought us the financial melt down brought us the drug trade. I know most people dont want to believe it, but where does all that drug money go? When will we learn.

Posted by Monk | Report as abusive

Beware of overly simplistic models of the universe…

Do you really think that if drugs are legalized that those same criminal minds are going to pack up and go to college, and become part of society? They will just turn to other crimes, possibly more to violent thefts.

Also, there are a myriad of reasons why we have such a large prison population, not all of it can be blamed on the war on drugs, remember:
1) Our country is big, and it enforces the rule of law, so we will automatically have one of the biggest prison populations.
2) Our penal system really sucks at deterrence, so what we may need to do is improve the deterrent effect of prison.
3) It’s mandatory minimums and 3 strikes polices that have been truly responsible for recent spikes in population lately. We’d probably be better off with shorter and more miserable terms.

Further, I think that we may not win the drug war, but the alternative solution of giving up is not without cost.

Consider that it will be much harder to reverse legalization than it was to implement it. If we try it out and find that we like legalization even less than drug prohibition, it will be too late once everyone is addicted to or enamored with their drug of choice.

Posted by Antidrug | Report as abusive

How does legalizing drugs prevent the Taliban, for example, from profiting from opium and heroin production? They’re still going to sell it, aren’t they? If they can’t sell it illegally, they can always go legit and sell it legally. And if we embargo Taliban dope, won’t they sell it illegally anyway, in the end?

Wouldn’t legalization result in a sort of drug mafia who will try to control the legal vendors themselves?

All we’d be doing is creating a different level of problems. Drugs mostly end up being abused. They’re often sold to children and to people who can’t afford them (and as the article points out, they’re at historically low prices — what people can’t afford is the addiction). The people who shouldn’t be taking drugs will still always procure them from illegal sources.

If know know the “drug war” is causing harm, take just one minute and go to http://www.WeCanDoItAgain.com , where you can easily DO SOMETHING about it.

Politics is about attaining and maintaining office, not the application of logic, or Occam’s Razor, or the good of “the public”, nation or world. As long as imbeciles are permitted to vote, a great portion of US policies will continue to be imbecilic… and tend toward producing more imbeciles, if I’m applying the aforementioned Razor properly.

Posted by aloysious | Report as abusive

Perhaps someone should dust off a copy of “Consumer’s Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs.” Something to ask the politicians: as an aging constituent what would you prefer? An opium pill that works, costs .15 cents a tab and comes with few side effects or some pharmaceutical concoction that may work, costs $15 a tab and comes with a retinue of side effects. Could kickstart the Afghan economy to boot.

Many like to site Amsterdam as a good example of regulating and taxing soft drugs as an alternative to criminalizing.

Unfortunately, the results have been strikingly similar to our war on drugs. Criminal activity controls the trade. Organized gangs are profiting from the trade and are more than willing to use violence to protect their turf.

Posted by Brad2 | Report as abusive

Why can’t we have Fairtrade drugs. Wouldn’t this solve many problems simultaneously. New prosperity for Afghanistan and Columbia and Africa!

Posted by Citrushouse | Report as abusive

OK…Go after the cartels and gangs militarily. Treat all of the drugs differently, according to the individual public danger. Internally, marijuana should have the same status as alcohol, but legalize narcotics in a more controlled fashion. License opiate users to receive the drugs at low cost from government stores provided they are employed in a public service job, like street cleaning, nursing home aides, industrial tank cleaning, beach cleanup, road maintenance, ditch digging, etc. Just don’t let them drive or operate machinery. They can be the broom, mop and shovel operators for the new era. If they can support themselves with honest work and get the dope cheap, maybe they’ll stop being such a nusiance. They would end up being a sort of voluntary underclass, or doper-caste. Keep the coke and meth illegal. They cause too many behavioral problems to be permitted. Close down the private prisons, and give all political prisoners legal trials. There. All fixed.

Posted by David B | Report as abusive

If criminal enterprises are willing to risk life and limb to sell drugs illegally, what makes anyone think they won’t risk life and limb to avoid paying taxes on drugs and continue to sell them illegally?

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

Just a quick thanks for your succinct and relevant article, “Einstein, insanity and the war on drugs.” Very much appreciated. My father was in law enforcement for 26 years in Dade County (Miami, Florida), and until his post-retirement death in 1980, repeated the same points you made in your article to anyone who would listen. We’ve made no progress since then, which is especially frustrating because almost everyone I talk with, including law enforcement officers, feels the same way you do (and my father did). I wonder why no one in federal and state government is listening — or doing the social arithmetic? It’s a no-brainer.
Alachua, FL

Posted by Susan | Report as abusive

Dear Sir:
Thank you for this overdue article. It gives us medical
marijuana users hope when we see articles of this nature
on a site like reuters.

Posted by bill lopez | Report as abusive

I am glad that everyone is ignoring Jan C. It is this kind of illogical thought process that just give me the willies.

I am also glad that the vast majority of the commentary here is in favor of legalizing MJ.

As for the one comment on not using the Netherlands as an example…You are absolutely correct. the Netherlands made a fatal mistake. They left the laws on the books and just pretended to ignore them. This still made the Cafe shoppe suppliers criminals and as criminals move in so does all that side criminal activity.

Don’t make the mistake the Netherlands made. LEGALIZE Marijuana. Remove the criminal element from the entire future industry.

Posted by B.Free | Report as abusive

How about making all drugs legal and then, to not condone the use, put half of that estimated $76.8 billion into rehabilitation programs the rest into something else (not schools, maybe the Federal deficit)?

Posted by Rod C | Report as abusive

The medical cost would be 100 times more than what you could collect on taxes. A premature birth cost around $600,000 not to mention downs, adhd, and every thing else drug use causes on the children of users…..THINK ABOUT THE CHILDREN NOT YOUR POCKETS…

I don’t think it’s fair to say that Amsterdam has so much trouble and leave it at that. Pressures from the United States make it difficult for any country to go against the grain. Without an industry to support the laws there, how can anyone expect anything to change.

Posted by Elliot | Report as abusive

Legalize marijuana? Are you out of your mind? My brother lives in San Francisco (America’s Amsterdam) and grows pot for a living. If it is legalized, everyone will get into the business, thus driving the prices down. My brother will go out of business and then have to come live with me. For my sake, just say NO, NO, NO.

Posted by Leven O'Five | Report as abusive

The US government should be very careful about simply “legalizing” marijuana or other drugs. The favored approach is to REGULATE marijuana production and sale. That takes the control away from gangs and street dealers and puts it in the hands of our government.

Prohibition has failed. We all agree on that.

Posted by Jeff | Report as abusive

Wishful thinking, using the economic argument won’t work and using the rational adult argument is even more ridiculous. The main reason these drugs will never be legalized is for the simple reason that they can be grown in your back yard…maybe not your average cocoa operation but nor far away in some remote area of south america. The same as boot legging liquor has never gone away and is still a very profitable business. Have you noticed that the drug companies are not campaigning for legalization? Because they can’t make money from the vast majority of “natural” drugs. Duh! Asking the feds to legalize these “classes” of drugs simply won’t happen. As someone who has abused them in various forms for many years since adolescence that now understands the reasons why? I have been sober for several years now and would not recommend using any grug legal or not…they are all recreational, except for treatment specific ailments related to a medical condition. They are all used for escape and delusion. People need to learn how to cope without the insanity of any of this stuff. Americans need too accept reality and life on lifes terms and stop with this ridiculous argument of legalization…..I guess frying yourself will still be perilous to your freedom as well as your development into adulthood. Tough medicine but true.

Posted by chuck | Report as abusive

“war on drugs has helped turn the United States into the country with the world’s largest prison population”

Wrong, people are choosing to break the law and use illegal drugs, hence they add to the prison population. The law is pretty clear, use certain drugs and you go to jail. The laws and the ‘war on drugs’ has nothing to do with people choosing to use drugs and break to law. Look at Japan and the Middle East, they have some of the harshest drug laws in the world, yet Japan for one has one of the lowest criminal populations in the world as well.

Posted by John Boom | Report as abusive

I’m all for the legalization and regulations of the drugs in question. Not just marajuana, but the majority of the illicit drugs.


Fairly simple: Money.

As of now, the cost of the drugs on the street is absurdly high. This is due to two reasons:
1) The dealers and Producers can charge that much
2) The game is high loss, so the profits have to be just as high to guarantee income, despite the losses suffered.

Most drugs are actually not difficult to produce, Marajuana is no harder to produce than tobacco, and in fact, is easier, as the plants can be heartier.

By legalizing it, you’re going to:

1) No risk production and shipment.
2) Standardize pricing for a product, leveling the field, and cutting heavily into the profits of the cartels.
3) Taxes and Sales in the US go to legitimate companies.
4) Useless money spent on enforcing laws regarding these can be funneled elsewhere.

Where’s the downside?

Posted by Kitch | Report as abusive

Legalizing drugs doesn’t make sense for reasons that all the legalizers can’t seem to grasp. For the most part, they LOVE to point to alcohol prohibition, but NEVER look at the MANY parallels to narcotics that do not support their position. I’m not saying the war on drugs is working well, but here is why you don’t want to try the “legalize it” route.

1. Argument: legalizing drugs will take the profit out of it, the associated crime will go away. Yeah right – like the dealers and makers are going to get a real job once it’s legalized. They’ll hit a liquor store – or your house for money, or get involved in some other nefarious activity that will be next on the “legalize it” list. What happened to those running booze in the 20’s after prohibition was lifted? They just dug deeper into other crimes. Any improvements to organized crime (I think it is better now than in the “good ol days”) came from busting the crime rings – not legalizing everything to “take the profit out of it”. You like to look at alcohol comparisons – then start looking at the whole experience with it.

2. Comparing alcohol to hard drugs is dangerously stupid. Approximately 10% of the population is genetically predisposed to becoming addicted to alcohol. Everyone is predisposed to becoming addicted to narcotics. It’s comparing a water pistol to a handgun. Besides – dig into your history just a bit more instead of being selective again. Narcotics were legal in the US at the turn of the century (cocaine in the coke as an example) and the results were disastrous. Addiction was rampant. Look it up. What about other countries that have allowed hard drugs? I don’t think it is a smashing success.

3. Arguments about addicts feeling free from a stigma for treatment are baseless and ridiculous. Where is the study or even the logic to support this? Alcohol is legal and there is still a “stigma” with being an alcoholic. Alcoholics notoriously resist treatment – and booze is legal.

4. Addressing concerns about increased addiction with a reassurance like “not necessarily” doesn’t cut it – talk about glossing over a major concern. Where is the information on this? Has alcohol addiction improved over the years since prohibition was lifted? Again – alcohol is kids stuff compared to narcotics too.

5. The toll on society from legal drugs (family destruction – now this is my turn to make a free assertion) will outweigh the cost for fighting drugs and the associated crime. I’m all for getting somebody treatment instead of jail at first, but it cannot become a joke system. And we can’t embrace “treatment” and at the same time make changes that will create more addicts.

6. How do you know that there still won’t be drugs illegally made and sold – a black market to get around the government’s involvement, taxes and such? I think we have this with (yes, let’s again look at the alcohol parallel). We have “moonshiners” making dangerous stuff while it is legal. Cigarettes – you name it. Knock off products……there will still be an illegal black market that will be crime ridden and trouble – especially for something that is addicting.

The theme is pretty simple – look at alcohol and honestly assess its history and situation and none of the legalize arguments make much sense at all. All the parallels actually indicate it is a very bad idea. It’s a simple sounding seductive one, but wrong so many ways it’s not funny.

Posted by Greg | Report as abusive

My perspective comes from living next to an international border and where drug violence is now becoming an open war. Our neighbor, the city of Nogales Sonora, has had running gun battles with grenades and automatic rifles and innocents are dying in the streets. The state department has put out a warning about an area that I have visited and loved for decades. Living here all my life I am heart broken over what has happened to our beautiful border with Mexico. Immigrant problems can be solved with proper job fairs and documents. The drug war on the border will be stopped only with legalization. As to the dangers of drug use, as a nurse I say regulating and taxing the drugs will do more to decrease adverse effects than keeping drugs in the dark and criminalized. All substances ingested can do harm from alcohol to prescription drugs and we will never be a perfect society but hiding the problem under a rug is not the answer.

Posted by MAP | Report as abusive

Street drugs? or just ripped off from those who get them from a doctor.If the jails are not full alot of people will be out of work Yes the system is broke but more drugs AN`t the way to go!.

Posted by Howard Hughes FU | Report as abusive

People, stop worrying about how to extract the tax money from the current growers and dealers. Once legalized, that system won’t last more than a few years.

When was the last time a stranger stopped you on the street trying to sell you bathtub gin? Never, because bootleggers can’t compete with the big corporations.

If pot’s legalized, within 2 years it’ll be available in liquor stores (or some other restricted retail) for a fraction of the current price. Overall consumption won’t rise significantly at all, though I expect there’ll be some shift from alcohol to pot, since it’s much less damaging.

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

“He estimates that legalizing drugs would inject $76.8 billion a year into the U.S. economy”

That is savings/income for federal government. Although the line has blurred significantly in last few months, it is still not the US economy.

What would the savings be, if non-violent drug offenders were pardon and released? I seen numbers that this prison demographic is about 400,000.

You also do not mention, the militarization of the police, the erosion of civil liberties, the 1000s of collateral deaths and the penalties a person convicted of non-violent drug offense faces after prison (school loans, housing, etc.).

The penalties a poor black youth will face for getting caught with a joint, will ruin his life. All this in the name of saving him. Pretty screwed up.

Posted by marc | Report as abusive

I think the people still arguing for prohibition are the people who either make money off it or are too ignorant to understand that prohibition makes the problem worse. Look at what happens when drugs or alcohol are made illegal: Beer and wine were replaced by bathtub gin and dangerous moonshine during alcohol prohibition, amphetamine pep pills are replaced by crystal meth, cocaine becomes crack, and opium is replaced by heroin. Prohibition not only causes crime and corruption but it even makes the substances themselves more dangerous. Drugs are never going to go away, neither are the users. All that can be done is to reduce the danger and harm that will inevitably result from drugs.

Posted by Drew | Report as abusive


You fail to realize people are already using. The fact that it’s illegal only makes criminals out of normally law abiding citizens. I don’t really care what happens. Just don’t look past the fact people are going to keep using regardless. Legal or not legal, the addictions you talk about are already there; probably people you know and trust. The problem is, making “drugs” [what really constitutes a drug anyway?] illegal only keeps things below the surface, just to keep it “PC”. I really have to laugh at how misguided you are. Obviously you just like to assume the things you see are real, and never really look beyond the surface. It’s a shame so many politicians share your narrow short sighted view of humanity. Government isn’t supposed to run your life. So why are they telling us what is legal and not legal. Obviously murder is one thing, but trying to legislate what people do in their own time in their own home is absolutely absured. I will tell you I support this idea. You mentioned the fact the dealers and such will just get deeper into crime. They could get a business license, and become legal dealers….. or would that make them doctors? Yeah I hope you got that. Doctors are probably the biggest criminals in our society. They are drugging people up left and right; but obviously Greg, you dont have a problem with that. I for one would rather have people doing drugs that are naturally grown than some designer drug created in a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical lab. Open your mind Greg. It’s extremely narrow as of now. Maybe you should try using and expand your mind, and also your view on life.

Posted by Jimbo | Report as abusive

Great article. Certainly stirred debate. Now if we can just start a rational discussion among our political, religious, press and law enforcement communities, who knows but that we might actually agree to try something different. Lord knows, what we’re doing now is the equivalent of the “finger-in-the-dike” solution.

Posted by Ben Bendetti | Report as abusive

Speculating rarely ever comes close to the reality of a real world trial concerning complex issues. Emotionally charged discourse concerning the legalization of drugs does nothing to prove the case either way.

Stop speculating. Legalize a drug (marijuana) for a period of 3-5 years and record what happens. Marijuana is the perfect drug for a trial because it is most plentiful and there is already an infrastructure already operating in the few states that allow the use for medical reasons. Once the trail is over and the data analyzed then and only then can intelligent decisions be made concerning its removal from the list of controlled substances on a federal level.

Posted by John Stone | Report as abusive

To get rid of a problem like drugs by making it legal only creates other problems. Health issues would explode and the cost of dealing with people abusing their bodies would be onerous.

Posted by Roger Barthe | Report as abusive

Does anyone know what the most smuggled-in product is in the United States? Cigarettes! What’s another? Caviar! And they are legal! Making something legal does not make the problem go away or even get better.

Posted by Dom Pfefferkorn | Report as abusive

“Law is NOT morality.” – Kevin

Yes it is. Isn’t most law historically derived from religious scriptures which depict the divide between right/wrong, moral/immoral, legal/illegal?

I can’t see how legalising addictive substances that have negative externalities attached to them could benefit any society. The costs of health care alone would strip away any financial benefits from tax etc. that could be gained by legalisation.

But rather than just continue the same things over and over, why can’t the government experiment with the implementation of better rehabilitation and social education programs before going down the road of legalisation?

Posted by Warwick | Report as abusive

Greg’s is the only rational comment posted, and he has it totally pegged.

Instead of filling up prisons, simple way is to make the selling of illegal drugs a mandatory death sentence. Instead of filling prisons, put a real deterent in place. And include loss of citizenship to anyone that was naturalized, and expulsion from the US, and siezure of all assets by the US government. Stop playing at it. Also, put military with weapons loaded and with mandate to interdict drug smuggling across any border. And give all such guards immunity from ANY prosecution or civil liability in the event of a mistake. Stop being a nanny state and protecting the sellers. Put a mandatory drug rehab sentence on anyone caught using, and force anyone that is high visibility such as sports figures, actors and film makers, etc. that are caught with drugs to leave their professions and take registration like a sex offender, with penalty of life imprisonment if they are caught around drugs after being caught the first time.

Great article!! You cannot legislate morality. period.
The so-called drug war purpose has never been to reduce crime, one of its purposes is to create an ever growing avenue for lobbyists to funnel our tax dollars into under the guise of protecting us from the “sourge” of drugs but what has happened is that drugs are more available now than when this “war” was started. The real questions that need to be asked is who is really profiting from this war? Who is really benefiting? Who is really being targeted for arrest and imprisonment?

I don’t get how so many people see this as a black and white issue where the sky will fall is drugs are legalized. What this country needs is regulation. I’m specifically for the legalization of marijuana. The taxes and industry this single act would do would bring much needed tax dollars to the country right now….

Posted by MGarvey | Report as abusive

Anyone who has been involved in political fundraising knows that companies like CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) are the first in line with checks to “law and order” candidates running for office. It’s the money, stupid. The “prison industrial complex” is real, filling prisons with minority kids doing minimum mandatory sentences for first time, non-violent offenses – many times proving only dry conspiracies, where no drugs are produced as evidence at trial. And when these former children get out, they are branded as “felons,” never able to vote, restricted from professional licenses, kept on the outside of legitimate society. What a shame. Shame on us, the taxpayers, for allowing lobbyists to push Congress to build the biggest people-warehousing operation in the world.

Posted by Jim Ryan | Report as abusive

The Reagan era of JUST SAY NO was simplistic then and still is now except that it has done so much damage compared to spending all that money on treatment or something. Do you notice when a rich kid or star has a problem they get treatment, they don’t get sent to jail. So why do the elite want to send your kids all to jail, fear I suppose but, when they get out of jail it will be safer??? The real question is why did anyone go for the beat them into submission approach. Maybe they were dreaming of beating up the Hippie’s or something but it was our kids.

Posted by shylove | Report as abusive

Your suggestions are just wonderful. Such much love for the individual. It would be interesting to see your reaction if some close relative of yours would be expelled from the country or executed as you just suggested. You want to introduce fascism, and probably at the same time proudly and chest-poundingly proclaim to be living in the world’s greatest democracy. Hooray, let’s drink to that!

Posted by Morrison | Report as abusive