Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A criminally stupid war on drugs in the US

Financial Times:
How much misery can a policy cause before it is acknowledged as a failure and reversed? The US “war on drugs” suggests there is no upper limit. The country’s implacable blend of prohibition and punitive criminal justice is wrong-headed in every way: immoral in principle, since it prosecutes victimless crimes, and in practice a disaster of remarkable proportions. Yet for a US politician to suggest wholesale reform of this brainless regime is still seen as an act of reckless self-harm.

Even a casual observer can see that much of the damage done in the US by illegal drugs is a result of the fact that they are illegal, not the fact that they are drugs. Vastly more lives are blighted by the brutality of prohibition, and by the enormous criminal networks it has created, than by the substances themselves. This is true of cocaine and heroin as well as of soft drugs such as marijuana. But the assault on consumption of marijuana sets the standard for the policy’s stupidity.

I think there are two special factors which make it hard for drug law reform: the simply colossal sums of money involved, all of which by definition supports massive corruption across the world; and the involvement of secret police and intelligence agencies in drug trafficking, as a source of covert revenue.

But of course drug prohibition should be completely abandoned. A better response to the problem of drug and substance abuse is a regime of taxation, regulation and education.

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