Common Sense and the Drug Problem

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“Largest
Pot Bust on Record” … “State to Fund New Jail Construction”
… “City Police and County Sheriffs Lobby for More Federal
Funds to Fight Drugs” … “Federal Courthouse Overwhelmed
with Drug Cases”

The headlines
are disturbing and are never-ending. The “war on drugs”
has gone on since the Nixon administration in the 1970s and continues
today. The “war on terror” is an infant compared with
the war on drugs. The drug war is the longest war the United States
has ever fought and for sure the most expensive.

The irony is
that the war is unwinnable and the side effects make it certain
that the problem will continue to grow, with law enforcement making
very little progress against it.

The time has
come to consider an alternative. We need to consider the legalization
of drugs as the only solution to the problem. This conclusion is
not based on whether illicit drugs are harmful or not. It comes
from the realization that the approach being taken to the problem
is not working and is in fact creating some very serious adverse
side effects. We are at a point where the “cure” is now
worse than the disease.

There is general
disregard for the drug laws in this country. Threat of criminal
prosecution has done little to reduce drug use, as the law is generally
seen as unreasonable and is ignored. There are doctors, lawyers,
and other professionals who smoke pot as casually as drinking a
cocktail. This disregard for the law from otherwise law-abiding
citizens is not good for society. Legislating personal behavior
that does not inflict violence on others encroaches on personal
freedom, and when citizens do not perceive harm to themselves, the
law becomes unsustainable in a free society.

One of the
great harms that come with making drugs illegal is the criminal
activity that goes along with it. The organized-crime gangs that
are involved in the illegal drug trade have become both rich and
violent. The money they receive from drugs allows them to corrupt
local law enforcement and politicians. Mexico is trying hard to
combat a problem not of its making. Not only are they having little
success but there is loss of life, loss of tranquility, and loss
of legitimate businesses, such as tourism.

There are other
sinister side effects to these efforts. Personal freedom and human
rights are diminished as law enforcement uses extreme measures in
the fight. The press is terrorized by the drug gangs and free speech
is compromised. The drug gangs use their power and money to finance
new ventures, such as extortion, kidnapping, and political assassination.

All of these
factors create a climate of fear in Mexico and a reduction in opportunity
for those who want a legitimate job. The rich either leave the country
or build fortresses to live in and surround themselves with bodyguards.
The poor oftentimes become part of the criminal element because
of the money to be made in the illegal-drug trade. For every drug
criminal Mexico captures or kills, there is a new one eager and
ready to replace him.

Mexico is in
danger of collapsing under this cancer.

At the same
time, there are serious problems in the United States. Law enforcement
continues to grow to combat the problem, requiring ever-increasing
expenditures of local and federal tax dollars. The courts are clogged
with drug cases, and the jails and prisons continue to grow. The
cost of housing prisoners is escalating. An interesting sidelight:
prisoners say that drugs are readily available in most jails and
there is some evidence that some prisoners actually get addicted
to hard drugs while there. The first thing they do when they get
out is look for a fix. Law enforcement and incarceration costs are
escalating. Our law-enforcement system is overwhelmed because of
the drug war. The more time that law enforcement spends on drug
cases, the less time it spends on crimes of violence.

What would
legalization of drugs do? First off, it would relegate drug use
and abuse to the private sector, where it rightly belongs. It would
also shrink the prison population and relieve the courts of those
cases. That would create huge cost savings. Legalization would relieve
citizens of the tremendous tax burden to fund the drug war.

A country that
is educated about drug use and abuse and has personal freedom as
its core value is a much healthier society. It is time for Americans
to face the drug war – and its failures – head on and
put a stop to this decades-long, failed, and destructive policy.

February
26, 2008

Hank Sames
is a businessman in Laredo, Texas. This is a modified version of
an article that appeared in Laredos, a news magazine in Laredo.
Reprinted by permission.

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