The anticipated selection of Chief Kerlikowske has given hope to those who want national drug policy to shift from an emphasis on arrest and prosecution to methods more like those employed in Seattle: intervention, treatment and a reduction of problems drug use can cause, a tactic known as harm reduction. Chief Kerlikowske is not necessarily regarded as having forcefully led those efforts, but he has not gotten in the way of them.Is that the best we can do?
What about shifting our national drug policy to a policy of legalization, regulation and problem reduction? What about a policy that actually does something effective to stop the flow of billions of dollars from middle class Americans drug consumers to terrorist organizations and drug thugs?
A story in the Wall Street Journal last week by Jose De Cordoba reported that a commission led by three conservative Latin American former presidents - Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, and César Gaviria of Colombia warned that the U.S. antidrug strategy was putting the region's fragile democratic institutions at risk and corrupting "judicial systems, governments, the political system and especially the police forces."
American drug laws are destroying the governments, economies and societies of countries like Mexico and Afghanistan, places we don't want to see become lawless havens for mobsters and terrorists and where we spend billions to prop up shaky governments and fund anti-drug activities. We are our own worst enemy in these places and American money is funding both sides of the war.
Prohibition has never worked. An interesting blog by conservative Tom Evelin not only makes a forceful case for legalization, but also points out that this is not a liberal or conservative issue.
Legalizing drugs is a stimulus package that comes at a negative cost to the taxpayer, punishes the bad guys by ruining their business, creates new business opportunities for good guys and lets us treat drug problems as we do alcohol and other addictions. The only problem is that it's political dynamite and will cause a huge anti-Obama surge from the right (but not from real conservatives like me).
There is some small measure of hope. Even in a climate of racial fear, massive drug-war propaganda, and no organized educational campaign for legalization, a growing number of Americans no longer see drugs as the monster under the bed. A poll last month by CBS found that 41% believe marijuana should be legalized, 52% oppose and 7% have no option. 30 years ago a similar poll found 69% against.
If the American public were presented with the real costs of the drug war, I believe attitudes would change quickly. But who can do that? Hmmm. How about it Anheuser-Busch and Altria? Ready for your own stimulus package?
Baby steps indeed!