Prohibition never really works

August 26, 2010

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Soon, StatePolice helicopters will swoop over West Virginia hilltops, spotting lush marijuana patches. The tall plants, worth millions in the underground dope business, will be chopped down and burned. Other clusters missed by troopers will be harvested secretly and funneled into the illicit trade.

There’s another option: Pot-growing could be legalized and licensed by the state, creating legitimate jobs and a flood of state revenue.

Gradually, efforts to decriminalize dope keep expanding — especially in Latin America, where tens of thousands of people are killed in battling over control of the billion-dollar drug flow into the United States. More than 28,000 have died in Mexican violence.

Last year, the ex-presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil issued a joint statement saying the U.S. war on drugs is ineffective. They proposed legalizing small amounts of pot for personal use.

This month, former Mexican President Vincente Fox took a bolder stand, calling for legal “production, sales and distribution” of all narcotics.

Prohibitionist policies have hardly worked anywhere,” Fox told a Miami Herald correspondent. “Prohibition of alcohol in the United States [in the 1920s] never worked, and it only helped trigger violence and crime…. What I’m proposing is that, instead of allowing this business to continue being run by criminals, by cartels, that it be run by law-abiding business people who are registered with the Finance Ministry, pay taxes and create jobs.”

On Aug. 6, Mexico’s public safety chief estimated that drug cartels pay $100 million per month in bribes to local Mexican police, so they’ll ignore truckloads of dope passing through their districts. Officers are offered a choice of “plomo or plata” — either take a silver payoff or a lead bullet.

The U.S. war on drugs fills jails and prisons with vast numbers of petty American dope abusers, roughly 2 million per year. U.S. taxpayers shell out billions for the endless crackdown and imprisonment. Yet the narcotics flow doesn’t diminish. Mammoth policing achieves little. Maybe it’s time to try other approaches.

Most U.S. politicians pose as “tough on drugs.” They fear that appearing “soft” would bring defeat in the next election. But some should be willing to study possible changes.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman supported legalization, at least for milder narcotics — a step that could pump an estimated $50 billion a year into the U.S. economy.

The war on drugs has raged for 40 years. Will America spend another century getting nowhere, jailing 2 million Americans per year, at horrendous cost? Or will leaders consider other options?

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