Thoughts about...The War on Drugs on Us

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The War on Drugs
is No Laughing Matter

Time for Obama to take legalization seriously

by Terry Michael | March 27, 2009

The President's Drug of Choice

Alcohol did not create Al Capone's gang violence in the hometown of our current president. Prohibition did.

Marijuana does not create murderous drug cartels in Mexico. America's War on Drugs does.

Surely President Barack Obama, one of the smartest men to inhabit the White House, must understand that truth—even if he chooses to laugh-off those of us who want to get serious about the need to end the social insanity of neo-Prohibition by legalizing marijuana and other psychoactive chemicals.

French essayist Georges Bernanos wrote, "The worst, the most corrupting of lies, are problems poorly stated." It is an outrageous lie, one that corrupts intelligent public policy discourse, when we talk of "drug violence." The official corruption and murderous mayhem in both Mexico and on our side of the border are not a result of dried leafy vegetation and white powder. They are the consequence of a lucrative black market, spawning profits for which bad people are willing to kill and die, directly resulting from federal and state laws that prohibit the sale, use, and possession of drugs.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged in Mexico City, this lucrative marketplace is fed by human demand for altered consciousness as insatiable as that which President Obama felt when he regularly sought a nicotine fix, or which George W. Bush experienced when he reached for another bottle of beer. But our leaders weren't thrown in jail for smoking and drinking, and neither were their dealers at the corner convenience store and neighborhood bar.

President Obama promised an end to politics as usual, but he now stands in the way of a long-neglected debate about ending the harm creation of draconian policies which: infringe on individual liberty; rip apart neighbor nations; create government violence against our own people by militarized police forces; cause health harm to the young by forcing psycho-active drugs underground, with no regulation of their content, purity, and strength, or education about how to use them intelligently; promote disrespect for the rule of law, with unequal penalties applied to the rich and to the poor—all factors which have disgracefully transformed the United States of America into the world's number one jailer.

Our government's own research (a 2006 survey by the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services) reveals that over half of the adult population of America has, at one time, used a controlled substance. Which means—if our drug laws were equally applied—that over 125 million of us would have spent time in jail, as Barack Obama and George W. Bush themselves would have done for what we euphemistically and absurdly call "youthful indiscretions." Obama has admitted using marijuana and cocaine. Bush, who was less candid, simply refused to deny it.

It is understandable why politicians have convinced themselves that drugs are a third rail of public policy and that they therefore don't have to seriously address legalization. The media—the very institution charged by the First Amendment with facilitating intelligent discourse—colludes with the government's drug war rather than challenging politicians to engage a real debate. The Washington Post and The New York Times both require drug-tests from college students seeking summer internships. And both have given the federal government free advertising space to promote First Amendment-infringing drug policy, when the president's Office of Drug Control Policy acquires space for drug war propaganda. Would the Times and the Post ever alcohol-test an aging copy editor, or offer the Department of Defense free space to promote an elective war in the Middle East in return for a full-page ad touting "Mission Accomplished?"

In this time of national economic crisis, we keep looking in our collective rear view mirror for lessons from the 1930s for what we should do, and what we should avoid, in order to restore confidence in ourselves and create hope for our future.

While fiscal and monetary actions taken in that era offer mixed and muddled messages for today's policymakers, another action by a transformational leader in that far-off decade sends a clarion call to us at the beginning of the 21st Century.

Franklin Roosevelt supported the 21st Amendment to end the madness of the 18th, and in so doing halted the devastating social, economic, and cultural costs of Prohibition. That's a lesson Barack Obama needs to heed.

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By Terry Michael
Published July 24, 2006

Legalize Drugs
Why draconian penalties are wrong

An open letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch:
stop reefer madness here, as well as in Dubai.

    Mr. Hatch, you have demonstrated willingness to act beyond ideology, when a practical approach makes more sense than "conservative" or "liberal" purity.

    You did so recently, for an American victim of draconian drug penalties of the United Arab Emirates. This is an appeal for your leadership to stop the equally devastating American "War on Drugs."

    Many officials admit behind closed doors that our drug policy needs radical revision. Few will say so publicly. This "third rail" of politics is exacerbated by the collusion of mainstream media, suspending usual rules of journalistic practice, publishing government propaganda without quoting critics of drug-war policy.

    Our policies result in tremendous harm creation, about which much has been written, but I'll summarize here:

    Denial of liberty. Our drug war constitutes an assault on individual liberty, privacy and choice, from both the left and right. Liberals fight for a woman's right to abortion and conservatives go to the ramparts to defend gun owners, but both agree to throw into prison an adult who smokes dried, leafy vegetation. With impunity, we can drink ourselves stupid and destroy our lungs with tobacco. But using a recreational substance as old as wine will get us jailed.

    Waste of treasury. When our resources should be directed at lawful attempts to keep dangerous politicized religious fanatics from entering our country, we spend tens of billions futilely trying to interdict chemicals, most of which, in moderation, are demonstrably no more harmful to the body than alcohol and tobacco.

    Government-created violent black market. Alcohol did not create Al Capone. Prohibition created Al Capone, with the mayhem, official corruption and murder that accompanied the 18th Amendment. And cocaine does not create drug cartels. America's War on Drugs creates drug cartels.

    Government violence against its own people. With guns blazing, law enforcement agencies not only deny life, liberty and property to those who work in the government stimulated black market; they rack up untold "collateral damage," maiming and killing innocent bystanders, in countless stings gone bad.

     Promoting disrespect for the rule of law. With millions of Americans scoffing at the China-like oppressiveness of the War on Drugs, our policies undermine respect for the rule of law and our democratic policy-making institutions. As the drug warriors clog our courts and fill our jails, we disrupt the lives of the poor and the powerless, who can't afford crafty lawyers and have no political connections.

    Health harm creation. Perhaps most important, our policy is creating untold health harm to millions, particularly the young. We educate them about the responsible use of two potentially very dangerous, but legal, substances, but we try our best to keep them ignorant of the real effects, and side effects, of other psychoactives. While hundreds of thousands die each year from the short- and long-term health damage of alcohol and tobacco, no one succumbs to marijuana, and remarkably few die from other illegal drugs.

    None of that argues for use of psychoactives of any kind, legal or currently illegal, particularly by young people with unformed intellectual and emotional lives. But it makes a powerful case for bringing other substances out of the shadows with decriminalization and legalization, and for spending some of those wasted billions on education, harm reduction, and, when needed, addiction treatment. The obsession of drug warriors with cutting off supplies of softer drugs has pushed thousands to try the bathtub gin of Neo-Prohibitionism, crystal methamphetamine.

    So, Mr. Hatch, I am hopeful your efforts to save an American being abused in Dubai will cause you to re examine the drug-war abuse millions of Americans face here everyday.

    I understand how difficult it will be to return to drug policy sanity. I had jury duty this summer and was sent out on a panel for a case of marijuana possession with intent to distribute. I wasn't chosen for the jury, but it made me realize how much the Drug War Industrial Complex has to lose if we change our laws. Probably a third of the jobs in that courthouse would disappear. Thousands of lawyers, prosecutors, DEA agents, and prison guards would have to find productive employment. Local law enforcement offices would lose much of their federal funding for high-tech toys.

    But America would be a less violent and healthier nation. Billions fewer tax dollars would be disbursed as welfare to the legal industries formed around the drug war. And official corruption, stimulated by the lucrative black market we have created with our policies, would diminish, not just in Colombia, Mexico and Afghanistan, but right here in America.

    Senator, it will take courage to lead in the battle to stop this war on America and its founding principles. But you have shown the wisdom to change your mind before.

    Several decades ago, my Baby Boom generation laughed at "Reefer Madness." Then we made it public policy. It's time to stop the madness.

Terry Michael runs a program to teach college journalism students about politics, and writes at his "libertarian Democrat" blog,

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