“Largest Pot Bust on Record” … “State to Fund New Jail Construction” … “City Police and County Sheriffs Lobby for More Federal Funds to Fight Drugs” … “Federal Courthouse Overwhelmed with Drug Cases”
The headlines are disturbing and are never-ending. The “war on drugs” has gone on since the Nixon administration in the 1970s and continues today. The “war on terror” is an infant compared with the war on drugs. The drug war is the longest war the United States has ever fought and for sure the most expensive.
The irony is that the war is unwinnable and the side effects make it certain that the problem will continue to grow, with law enforcement making very little progress against it.
The time has come to consider an alternative. We need to consider the legalization of drugs as the only solution to the problem. This conclusion is not based on whether illicit drugs are harmful or not. It comes from the realization that the approach being taken to the problem is not working and is in fact creating some very serious adverse side effects. We are at a point where the “cure” is now worse than the disease.
There is general disregard for the drug laws in this country. Threat of criminal prosecution has done little to reduce drug use, as the law is generally seen as unreasonable and is ignored. There are doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who smoke pot as casually as drinking a cocktail. This disregard for the law from otherwise law-abiding citizens is not good for society. Legislating personal behavior that does not inflict violence on others encroaches on personal freedom, and when citizens do not perceive harm to themselves, the law becomes unsustainable in a free society.
One of the great harms that come with making drugs illegal is the criminal activity that goes along with it. The organized-crime gangs that are involved in the illegal drug trade have become both rich and violent. The money they receive from drugs allows them to corrupt local law enforcement and politicians. Mexico is trying hard to combat a problem not of its making. Not only are they having little success but there is loss of life, loss of tranquility, and loss of legitimate businesses, such as tourism.
There are other sinister side effects to these efforts. Personal freedom and human rights are diminished as law enforcement uses extreme measures in the fight. The press is terrorized by the drug gangs and free speech is compromised. The drug gangs use their power and money to finance new ventures, such as extortion, kidnapping, and political assassination.
All of these factors create a climate of fear in Mexico and a reduction in opportunity for those who want a legitimate job. The rich either leave the country or build fortresses to live in and surround themselves with bodyguards. The poor oftentimes become part of the criminal element because of the money to be made in the illegal-drug trade. For every drug criminal Mexico captures or kills, there is a new one eager and ready to replace him.
Mexico is in danger of collapsing under this cancer.
At the same time, there are serious problems in the United States. Law enforcement continues to grow to combat the problem, requiring ever-increasing expenditures of local and federal tax dollars. The courts are clogged with drug cases, and the jails and prisons continue to grow. The cost of housing prisoners is escalating. An interesting sidelight: prisoners say that drugs are readily available in most jails and there is some evidence that some prisoners actually get addicted to hard drugs while there. The first thing they do when they get out is look for a fix. Law enforcement and incarceration costs are escalating. Our law-enforcement system is overwhelmed because of the drug war. The more time that law enforcement spends on drug cases, the less time it spends on crimes of violence.
What would legalization of drugs do? First off, it would relegate drug use and abuse to the private sector, where it rightly belongs. It would also shrink the prison population and relieve the courts of those cases. That would create huge cost savings. Legalization would relieve citizens of the tremendous tax burden to fund the drug war.
A country that is educated about drug use and abuse and has personal freedom as its core value is a much healthier society. It is time for Americans to face the drug war — and its failures — head on and put a stop to this decades-long, failed, and destructive policy.
This is a modified version of an article that appeared in Laredos, a news magazine in Laredo. Reprinted by permission.