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Wall Street Journal: Musings About the War on Drugs

  1. Motorhead
    US: Column: Musings About The War on Drugs
    by George Melloan, (21 Feb 2006) Wall Street Journal United States
    Economist Milton Friedman predicted in Newsweek nearly 34 years ago that Richard Nixon's ambitious "global war against drugs" would be a failure. Much evidence today suggests that he was right. But the war rages on with little mainstream challenge of its basic weapon, prohibition.

    To be sure, Mr. Friedman wasn't the only critic. William Buckley's National Review declared a decade ago that the U.S. had "lost" the drug war, bolstering its case with testimony from the likes of Joseph D. McNamara, a former police chief in Kansas City, Mo., and San Jose, Calif. But today discussion of the war's depressing cost-benefit ratio is being mainly conducted in the blogosphere, where the tone is predominantly libertarian. In the broader polity, support for the great Nixon crusade remains sufficiently strong to discourage effective counterattacks.

    In broaching this subject, I offer the usual disclaimer. One beer before dinner is sufficient to my mind-bending needs. I've never sampled any of the no-no stuff and have no desire to do so. So let's proceed to discuss this emotion-laden issue as objectively as possible.

    The drug war has become costly, with some $50 billion in direct outlays by all levels of government, and much higher indirect costs, such as the expanded prison system to house half a million drug-law offenders and the burdens on the court system. Civil rights sometimes are infringed. One sharply rising expense is for efforts to interdict illegal drug shipments into the U.S., which is budgeted at $1.4 billion this fiscal year, up 41% from two years ago.

    That reflects government's tendency to throw more money at a program that isn't working. Not only have the various efforts not stopped the flow but they have begun to create friction with countries the U.S. would prefer to have as friends.

    As the Journal's Mary O'Grady has written, a good case can be made that U.S.-sponsored efforts to eradicate coca crops in Latin America are winning converts among Latin peasants to the anti-American causes of Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Their friend Evo Morales was just elected president of Bolivia mainly by the peasant following he won by opposing a U.S.-backed coca-eradication program. Colombia's huge cocaine business still thrives despite U.S. combative efforts, supporting, among others, leftist guerrillas.

    More seriously, Mexico is being destabilized by drug gangs warring over access to the lucrative U.S. market. A wave of killings of officials and journalists in places like Nuevo Laredo and Acapulco is reminiscent of the 1930s Prohibition-era crime waves in Al Capone's Chicago and the Purple Gang's Detroit. In Afghanistan, al Qaeda and the Taliban are proselytizing opium-poppy growers by saying that the U.S. is their enemy. The claim, unlike many they use, has the merit of being true.

    Milton Friedman saw the problem. To the extent that authorities curtail supplies of marijuana, cocaine and heroin coming into the rich U.S. market, the retail price of these substances goes up, making the trade immensely profitable -- tax-free, of course. The more the U.S. spends on interdiction, the more incentive it creates for taking the risk of running drugs.

    In 1933, the U.S. finally gave up on the 13-year prohibition of alcohol -- a drug that is by some measures more intoxicating and dangerous to health than marijuana. That effort to alter human behavior left a legacy of corruption, criminality, and deaths and blindness from the drinking of bad booze. America's use of alcohol went up after repeal but no serious person today suggests a repeat of the alcohol experiment. Yet prohibition is still being attempted, at great expense, for the small portion of the population -- perhaps little more than 5% -- who habitually use proscribed drugs.

    Mind-altering drugs do of course cause problems. Their use contributes to crime, automobile accidents, work-force dropouts and family breakups. But the most common contributor to these social problems is not the illegal substances. It is alcohol. Society copes by punishing drunken misbehavior, offering rehabilitation programs and warning youths of the dangers. Most Americans drink moderately, however, creating no problems either for themselves or society.

    Education can be an antidote for self-abuse. When it was finally proved that cigarettes were a health risk, smoking by young people dropped off and many started lecturing their parents about that bad habit. LSD came and then went after its dangers became evident. Heroin's addictive and debilitative powers are well-known enough to limit its use to a small population. Private educational programs about the risks of drug abuse have spread throughout the country with good effect.

    Some doctors argue that the use of some drugs is too limited. Marijuana can help control nausea after chemotherapy, relieve multiple-sclerosis pain and help patients whose appetites have been lowered to a danger level by AIDS. Morphine, some say, is used too sparingly for easing the terrible pain of terminally ill cancer patients. It is argued that pot and cocaine use by inner-city youths is a self-prescribed medicine for the depression and despair that haunts their existence. Doctors prescribe Prozac for the same problems of the middle class.

    So what's the alternative? An army of government employees now makes a living from the drug laws and has a rather conflictive interest in claiming both that the drug laws are working and that more money is needed. The challenge is issued: Do you favor legalization? In fact, most drugs are legal, including alcohol, tobacco and coffee and the great array of modern, life-saving drugs administered by doctors. To be precise, the question should be do you favor legalization or decriminalization of the sale and use of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines?

    A large percentage of Americans will probably say no, mainly because they are law-abiding people who maintain high moral and ethical standards and don't want to surrender to a small minority that flouts the laws, whether in the ghettos of Washington D.C. or Beverly Hills salons. The concern about damaging society's fabric is legitimate. But another question needs to be asked: Is that fabric being damaged now?

Comments

  1. enquirewithin
    The problem is that, as with the so-called War on Terror, members of the elites benefit from the existence of the War on Drugs.
  2. Motorhead
    Ah yes the elites. Elites profit and they pay alot of taxes on those profits. If articles such as this keep popping up in major finacial conservative papers, then maybe the elites may not think the profits from the drug war are worth the billions(tax dollars) the administration wastes on such an increasingly silly war. I donno, thats just one take on it.
    I know its only one article, but the fact that such an obvious anti-prohibition peice(despite the authers claim of objectivity) appears in a publication of this type is signifigant. No matter how small.
  3. Motorhead
    US CA: Column: 'But He's Good On Our Issue'
    by Fred Gardner, (07 Mar 2006) Anderson Valley Advertiser California
    Pro-marijuana activists from the Beltway to Oaksterdam have been forwarding, with comments expressing praise and thanks, George Melloan's Feb. 21 Wall St. Journal op-ed piece, "Musings About the War on Drugs." Six of seven members of the WSJ editorial board agree with Melloan, according to reliable sources. Letters to the paper have been heavily supportive of his libertarian and tactical arguments, which included:

    "The drug war has become costly, with some $50 billion in direct outlays by all levels of government, and much higher indirect costs, such as the expanded prison system to house half a million drug-law offenders and the burdens on the court system. Civil rights sometimes are infringed. One sharply rising expense is for efforts to interdict illegal drug shipments into the U.S., which is budgeted at $1.4 billion this fiscal year, up 41% from two years ago.

    "A good case can be made that U.S.-sponsored efforts to eradicate coca crops in Latin America are winning converts among Latin peasants to the anti-American causes of Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Their friend Evo Morales was just elected president of Bolivia mainly by the peasant following he won by opposing a U.S.-backed coca-eradication program... More seriously, Mexico is being destabilized by drug gangs warring over access to the lucrative U.S. market.

    "Milton Friedman saw the problem. To the extent that authorities curtail supplies of marijuana, cocaine and heroin coming into the rich U.S. market, the retail price of these substances goes up, making the trade immensely profitable--tax-free, of course. The more the U.S. spends on interdiction, the more incentive it creates for taking the risk of running drugs."

    The activists' admiration for Melloan was typified in a letter from Howard J. Wooldridge of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition that the Journal published March 7: "As a police officer, I worked the trenches of the war on drugs for 18 years. Mr. Melloan's comments were right on. I would add that as we chase pot smokers, etc., we have less time to arrest DUIs, pedophiles and people who fly airplanes into buildings. As a detective, 75% of my case load was generated by drug prohibition. Drug gangs now plague medium and even small towns. What part of this policy is benefiting America? None of it."

    To the right of Wooldridge's letter ( and a complementary one from Jack Cole, also of LEAP ), ran George Melloan's latest op-ed, a four-column exercise in speculation contending that Saddam Hussein was involved with the bombing of the World Trade Center; that the bombers mailed anthrax to recipients in the US ( before taking off ); and that the CIA is preventing the American people from learning the relevant facts!

    Melloan wants the Administration to make public "captured documents that *might* reveal what schemes Saddam Hussein had cooked up to retaliate against the U.S. for the indignities thrust upon him during and after his 1991 Desert Storm defeat. Those included a UN embargo, arms inspections, a no-fly zone and occasional bombing attacks." [U.S. doctors estimate that 500,000 Iraqis, most of them children deprived of medicines, died as a result of these "indignities."] According to Melloan, "Saddam *may once have* offered sanctuary to bin Laden himself," and "CIA denials to the contrary, his emissary *may have* met with hijacker in chief Mohammed Atta...

    "*If Saddam was complicit in the plot,* what more likely suspect could you find than a dictator who had used poison gas against both Iran and his own people and who *was suspected by the United Nations* of having caches of lethal chemicals? Those truck convoys that set out for Syria before the 2003 invasion *easily could have* carried the entire supply. *Is it so implausible that* Saddam's envoy Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi government official who worked at the Iraqi embassy in Prague, *might have* slipped terrorist Atta a packet of weaponized anthrax at the rendezvous that the CIA claims never happened?"

    Melloan thinks "a cabal within that dysfunctional bureaucracy [the CIA!] is doing all it can to undermine a Republican president... It has a lot to do with the political guerrilla warfare that ( Valerie Plame's ) Democrat husband is waging against the administration." Melloan's whacko op-ed ends with a revealing reference to "the jackal mentality that afflicts the Beltway when a president's poll numbers have been beaten down. One of the shillelaghs being used for that purpose might become far less effective *if we ever learn that* Saddam was part of the 9/11 plot." A shillelagh is a cudgel. The man is saying that the CIA has withheld the truth about Saddam Hussein's villainy so that George W. Bush's popularity could be "beaten down," presumably by the liberal media.

    Is it pure coincidence that Melloan is musing about an end to the War on Drugs as Bush's approval rating slips to 30%? Or do he and his friends on the Wall St. Journal editorial board sense it's time to place a libertarian fig-leaf over the capitalist marauder's weaponry to conceal his true nature and ultimate objectives? In the instant that drug-legalization advocates praise George Melloan for supporting their agenda, they confer credibility on his, which is global control by capital enforced by the U.S. military. Credibility cuts both ways.

  4. Motorhead
    UTOPIA OF LEGALIZED DRUGS IS A DELUSION

    George Melloan, in his Feb. 21 Global View "Musings About the War on Drugs" and some of the March 7 Letters in response ( "Our Unwinnable War -- Against Drugs," March 7 ) propose new thinking about whether drugs should be legalized, but in the end offer a rehash from libertarians of yesteryear. Arguments that drug prohibition has failed depend upon two points. The first accepts that drug use damages the social fabric, but insists that more damage follows from the prohibition itself. The second argues that drug prohibition doesn't even have the virtue of achieving its goal. After all, some people still use drugs, traffickers still make profits and fighting back against drugs means that there is, well, a fight, producing violence. Hence, our policy should accommodate the fact of drug use.

    Against the argument for accommodation, I make three points: 1 ) First, there is no realistic alternative to the fight. Illegal drugs are inherently dangerous, corrupting and incompatible with health and freedom. The utopian world of regulated, inexpensive, readily available ( but somehow scarcely used ) methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and marijuana is a cruel delusion. Consider that Americans already suffer from the abuse of prescription narcotic medicines, which are highly regulated, yet are the second-leading drug problem in the country.

    Second, fighting back against illegal drugs has staved off a worse circumstance, with many more drug users, and more ensuing damage to the social fabric. Were the laws abandoned, drug trafficking and use would be less risky, making drugs cheaper and more available. The result would be an increase in demand for addictive substances that trap their users. The number seeking help for their disease of addiction would diminish, and the bright line of deterrence for an emerging generation would fade.

    Third, drug prohibition is not futile, but has been demonstrably effective across a spectrum of drug threats. We have adopted a balanced strategy that emphasizes prevention and treatment, and backed up that strategy with dollars and effective programs. But equally essential have been our efforts to reduce the supply of illegal drugs. The consequence of those efforts is a largely untold story of dramatic impact.

    Current drug use by young Americans has dropped by 19% since 2001. That means 700,000 fewer youth being poisoned and potentially lost to addiction. Effective policies have made a difference, as have the laws against drug use.

    The fight against illegal drugs represents an international undertaking, bound by treaties and shared commitments. While it is dismaying to know that more than 4,000 metric tons of opium ( an estimated 87% of world supply ) was produced in war-ridden Afghanistan last year, few critics acknowledge that world opium production once stood at 30,000 metric tons. Today, the countries of the Golden Triangle are virtually opium-free, while opium cultivation in Colombia has plummeted 67% since 2001.

    Coca cultivation, limited to three nations in the Andes, has fallen more than 30% in the past five years. As a result, Colombia has been revived as a land of improving human rights, the rule of law and prosperity. That is, a nation nearly broken by narco-terrorists now has a positive future, because it would not give in to narco-corruption and violence.

    Moreover, the impact of these efforts on the streets of America is encouraging. In 2004, we saw a 22% drop in the retail-level purity of South American heroin, and evidence of a 15% decline in cocaine purity for the first three quarters of 2005, along with corresponding increases in their respective prices.

    John Walters Director White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Washington
    ------
    Thursday March 16, 2006 Wall Street Journal
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