Saturday, October 08, 2005

A Great Article

I really liked this article from the CATO institute. It sums up my thoughts on drug prohibition well. Enjoy...


Drug Prohibition has Failed


by David Boaz

On February 20, 1933, a new Congress acknowledged the failure of alcohol Prohibition and sent the Twenty-First Amendment to the states. Prohibition had begun in 1920 amid high hopes. Evangelist Billy Sunday proclaimed, "The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile and children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent."

Alas, as historians of prohibitionist efforts could have predicted, Sunday was wrong. Congress recognized that Prohibition had failed to stop drinking and had increased prison populations and violent crime. By the end of 1933, national Prohibition was history, though many states continued to outlaw or severely restrict the sale of liquor.

Today another Congress confronts a similarly failed prohibition policy. Futile efforts to enforce prohibition have been pursued even more vigorously in the 1980s and 1990s than they were in the 1920s. Total federal expenditures for the first 10 years of Prohibition amounted to $88 million--about $733 million in 1993 dollars. Drug enforcement cost about $22 billion in the Reagan years and another $45 billion in the four years of the Bush administration, and costs about $15 billion a year now.

Those mind-boggling amounts have had some effect. Total drug arrests are now more than 1 million a year. Since 1989, more people have been incarcerated for drug offenses than for all violent crimes combined, and drug offenders account for 60 percent of the federal prison population.

Yet as was the case during Prohibition, all the arrests and incarcerations haven't stopped the use and abuse of drugs, or the drug trade, or the crime associated with black-market transactions. Cocaine and heroin supplies are up; the more our Customs agents interdict, the more smugglers import.

There are at least a dozen reasons that today's prohibition should be repealed.

1) Drug prohibition causes crime. By driving up the price of drugs, prohibition forces drug users to commit crimes to pay for a habit that would be easily affordable if it were legal. And the outlaw nature of the business means that rival drug sellers must resort to violence to settle disputes among themselves. The per capita murder and assault-by-firearm rate rose steadily while alcohol Prohibition was in effect (1920-33) and fell for 10 straight years after that. The murder rates generated by today's prohibition, of course, are much higher. Police officials have estimated that in many major cities as much as 50 percent of crime--including auto thefts, robberies and assaults, and burglaries--is committed by drug addicts to support their habits. It's not drug-related crime; it's prohibition-related crime. As conservatives say about guns, "If drugs are outlawed, only outlaws will sell drugs."

2) Drug prohibition corrupts law enforcement officials. The huge profits generated by prohibition are an irresistible temptation to Mexican drug czars, Colombian judges, American soldiers in Panama, police officers, agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and so on. When police officers and border guards arrest people carrying more cash than they'll make in a decade, it's hardly surprising that some of them are persuaded to look the other way.

3) Drug prohibition undermines respect for the law. When the government declares 25 million Americans criminals, and still can't enforce the drug laws, it chips away at the respect that underlies all law.

4) Drug prohibition weakens the family. What kind of family structure can be maintained when a 13-year-old boy is paying his mother's rent out of his drug earnings? It is illegal drugs, not legal products, that are sold on school playgrounds and neighborhood streets.

5) Drug prohibition destroys the community. When the most successful people in an inner-city neighborhood are outlaws, the natural order of the community is inverted. The enormous profits generated by prohibition make a mockery of the work ethic and parental authority. Honesty, respect for private property, and all the other hallmarks of a civilized society are casualties of prohibition.

6) Drug prohibition reflects a failure to learn from history. We repealed the prohibition of alcohol because it produced crime, corruption, and social chaos. Now we are making the same mistakes and suffering the same consequences.

7) Drug prohibition is a classic example of throwing money at a problem. We spend $15 billion a year on enforcement of the drug laws--20 times as much in real terms as we ever spent on alcohol prohibition--to no avail. Drug prohibition is the sort of thing Ronald Reagan had in mind when he said, "The nearest thing to eternal life on this earth is a government program." President Clinton's drug czar has now formally announced that the War on Drugs will be endless.

8) Drug prohibition centralizes power in Washington. The federal government has usurped the power of states and communities to determine their own policies, and the prosecution of the drug war has caused federal law enforcement agencies to grow at the expense of state and local police. Most recently, the Clinton administration refuses to accept the decision of the people of Arizona and California to allow the medical use of marijuana, and is threatening to arrest doctors who abide by state law. The U.S. government has always seized on wars and emergencies to expand its own powers at the expense of states, individuals, and the Constitution.

9) Drug prohibition does violence to civil liberties. There was a time in this country when the government was only allowed to punish someone after he was convicted in a court of law. It now appears that the drug authorities can punish an American citizen by seizing his car or his boat, not even after an indictment--much less a conviction--but after a mere allegation by a police officer. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence? The demand to win this unwinnable war has led to wiretapping, entrapment, property seizures, and other abuses of Americans' traditional liberties.

10) Drug prohibition hurts our relations with our allies. When we pressure friendly Latin American governments to destroy their coca fields, we turn their citizens against them--and often into the arms of such leftist revolutionaries as Peru's Tupac Amaru--as well as stirring up their resentment of Yankee imperialism.

11) Drug prohibition does violence to the Constitution. The Tenth Amendment reserves to the states or the people all powers not granted to the federal government. At least the advocates of alcohol Prohibition had enough respect for the Constitution to seek a constitutional amendment to impose Prohibition, but Congress never asked the American people for the constitutional power to impose drug prohibition.

12) Drug prohibition violates individual rights. People have rights that governments may not violate. Thomas Jefferson defined them as the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I would say that people have the right to live their lives in any way they choose so long as they don't violate the equal rights of others. What right could be more basic, more inherent in human nature, than the right to choose what substances to put in one's own body? Whether we're talking about alcohol, tobacco, AZT, saturated fat, medical marijuana, or recreational cocaine, this is a decision that should be made by the adult individual, not the government. If government can tell us what we can put into our own bodies, what can it not tell us? What limits on government action are there?

As William F. Buckley, Jr., says, "It is the duty of conservatives to declaim against lost causes when the ancillary results of pursuing them are tens of thousands of innocent victims and a gradual corruption of the machinery of the state." He's not the only leading conservative who recognizes the futility of the drug war. Sociologist Ernest van den Haag, Hoover Institution scholar Thomas Sowell, former secretary of state George Shultz, and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman agree with Buckley.

The drug war is a futile, counterproductive, big-government program. It is time to return the effort to control drug abuse to families, churches, schools, mission houses, and the other elements of civil society.

Source Here

So what are your thoughts about drug prohibition?

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