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Gary Johnson’s got it right on marijuana

Gary Johnson

The “war on drugs” is a losing battle.

Our former governor touched a third-rail when he took a stance in favor of the legalization of marijuana back in the 90s. Now it appears he is to run in the presidential Republican primary in 2012 (by the way, why not for Bigaman’s vacated senatorial seat, Gary?).

After $1 trillion spent on the “War on Drugs,” even the United States drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes that, “in the grand scheme, it has not been successful.”

Meanwhile, with 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States now has 25 percent of the world’s prison population.

In a recent report, the Associated Press assembled some pretty grim statistics. Here are just a few. The federal government has evidently spent $33 billion in various antidrug messages and prevention programs. But high-school students continue to use illegal drugs at the same rate as in 1970, and drug overdoses have risen steadily since then.

Some 37 million nonviolent drug offenders – about 10 million of them using marijuana  – have been arrested, at a cost of $121 billion; jail time, research shows, tends to increase drug abuse. Another $450 billion has been spent on locking these people up in federal prisons alone.

At some point, it becomes impossible to pretend any longer that government and its law enforcement arm can solve a problem of this nature. This is a job for families and local institutions, not a paramilitary police state spearheaded by the DEA.

How are other countries handling the problem?

Thomas Molitor

Since 1976, Holland has pursued a marijuana decriminalization policy in which law enforcement will not harass people in possession of small quantities of the weed. Harder drugs are treated in a similar fashion: As long as the quantities remain within certain limits and the individuals involved commit no other criminal behavior, the laws will not be enforced.

Two decades later, teenage marijuana use in Holland is half the level in the United States. Hard drug use decreased among the same group from 15 percent to 2.5 percent, and the average age of the users of such drugs increased by more than seven years.

Portugal recently introduced an even more sweeping policy, abolishing criminal penalties for possession of previously illegal drugs. Again, the results that critics predicted have not come to pass. Portugal was not overrun by so-called drug tourists, and its drug problem has not been exacerbated. To the contrary, five years after the implementation policy, drug use was down considerably among young people, deaths related to heroin and drugs of similar caliber had been cut in half, and the number of people seeking drug treatment had more than doubled.

Had drug use and deaths increased, critics would have pointed to them as evidence of the failure of the policy.

The number of U.S. drug prisoners has increased twelvefold


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Meanwhile, in the United States it has been full steam ahead with the imprisonment strategy. The number of drug prisoners has increased twelvefold since 1980, at a time when the number of people behind bars has only quadrupled.

If we add up the number of people incarcerated for all crimes in England, France, Germany and Japan, we would not reach the number incarcerated in the United States for drug crimes alone.

Within a generation of the beginning of the War on Drugs under Nixon, some 19,000 state and local police officers were pursuing the drug war full time, with another 11,000 engaged in it part time.

Two California congressmen confided to a U.S. judge that every federal agency they could think of was getting extra funding in the name of the war on drugs – not just the Drug Enforcement Administration, the military, and the State Department, but also agencies one would never think of, like the Department of Agriculture or the Department of Land Management.

These agencies, the judge was told, are “addicted to the funding provided by the War on Drugs, and they do not want to give up the money.”

The war on drugs has been counterproductive

The 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 43.7 percent of American adults – over 98 million people – admitted to marijuana usage at some point in their lives, with 10 percent having used it in the past year. That’s 22.5 million people. At that time the entire incarcerated population of the United States amounted to about 2.3 million. Since it is impossible, and obviously not desirable, to incarcerate tens of millions more, what on earth are we doing?

As for our neighbor south of the border, the Mexican government has released a database it says covers all murders presumed to have a link to the country’s drug wars in which at least seven different cartels are fighting each other and federal forces deployed in a massive offensive against them that was launched in December 2006.

The number of deaths has risen rapidly since then to total 34,612 through the end of 2010, which was by far the most violent year so far with 15,273 people killed. Reportedly, half of the drug trade from Mexico involves marijuana.

Like the failed prohibition laws on alcohol between 1920 and 1933, the prohibition on marijuana has tragically squandered lives and resources, and has been, in practice, a job-creation policy for criminals and corrupt governments and police forces.

Cut government spending on the war on drugs

House Republicans just unveiled a far-reaching budget proposal for next year and beyond that cuts $5.8 trillion from anticipated spending levels over 10 years, and is likely to provide the framework for both the fiscal and political fights of the next two years.

I haven’t read the budget and don’t know how much of the proposed spending cuts would involve cuts in agencies currently funded to fight “the war on drugs.”

But now would be the prefect time for Congress to put those futile drug war expenditures on the table for budgetary discussion, alongside a strong advocacy for the total legalization of marijuana.

Molitor is a regular columnist for this site. You can reach him at tgmolitor@comcast.net.

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10 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. Update Alert No. 2:

    Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance on Reason TV.

  2. Update Alert: Unusually, I’ve received a lot of emails to my personal account regarding comments on my column. I guess there are a lot of people out there that agree with my position but do not want their positions known.

    Anyway, some have given me some links for further information on the topic so I thought I would pass them onto you:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/opinion/14kristof.html

    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/bs-ed-drug-war-20110307,0,4938130.story

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lopez29-2009mar29,0,88438.column

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6lzFoNaXQg

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2009/04/02/65265/commentary-time-to-start-talking.html

    Cheers,
    Tom

  3. Problem is too many LAWYERS are already involved, defending the criminals, etc.

    Once the Lawyers (RATS) are in, it takes a major EXTERMINATION to get rid of the LEECHES!

    Good luck! I would love to see it legalized and controlled, I think that is the best option!

  4. Thomas, an excellent column.

    Not only would this be the correct policy domestically, I’m convinced it would lead to much less violence on our southern border.

    Frank DuBois

  5. @wedum59 – Thanks for the reference I hadn’t heard of the organization – here’s its website.

    From Wiki:

    Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is a non-profit, international, educational organization comprising former and current police officers, government agents and other law enforcement agents who oppose the current War on Drugs.

    LEAP is a drug law reform organization that believes legalized regulation is the only ethical and efficient way to undo the damage caused by the War on Drugs. Legalized regulation would result in a system in which the sale and distribution of drugs is regulated by a government body similar to the regulation of alcohol and tobacco, thereby inhibiting, and eventually removing, the criminal monopoly on the sale of current illicit drugs.

    Also, here’s a link to NORMAL – National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Probably the oldest organization dedicated to marijuana law reform.

    Update Alert: Perhaps we can apply Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” slogan to prohibition rather than to usage?

  6. Can somebody please answer what New Mexico’s #1 growth industry might be?

    From the looks of the “Palaces of Justice” already built in downtown Albuquerque, I suspect that it may be prisons and more prisons.

    Lots of work for prosecutors, lawyers, jailers, and policemen of every variety.

    I have seen the net result. It is the complete destruction of countless lives of those caught up in that vicious web.

  7. So the people imprisoned in the US on drug-related crimes has risen 3 times faster than the population growth? Thanks for bringing these facts to our attention.

    In case anyone would like to learn more about this, there is an organization called LEAP: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

  8. If Johnson ran on this issue, it would garner massive numbers of votes from every political persuasion. People who never voted before would come out to vote. The corporate affiliated mass media will be demonizing and mocking Johnson 24-7 to no avail. It is long past time to have this national discussion.
    Obama laughed off legalization as it generated the most number of inquiries from his early experiments to hear the people’s concerns on the internet twice. His derision of this critical issue may be his undoing in 2012.

  9. I tend to agree. But, when you have to overcome the vested special interests of law enforcement (and all its permutaions the author mentioned) AND organized crime, I’m not sure you actually get there from here anytime soon. To bad we have to prioritize the trivial, unimportant, self-serving or hyper-partisan issues ahead of the significant. This issue is too important morally or fiscally to ignore, so rest assured we will.

  10. Finally, a voice of sanity on this issue from the right. Unfortunately, these policies will never be enacted because it is too easy for those in power to label others as “soft on crime” for proposing and implementing them. Until we as people decide that decriminilization and legalization are legitimate options, refuse to buy in to political hype, and translate that opinion to the polls we will continue to spend too much on this problem.

    I know many Democrats and Independents who actually think this is the most important issue currently facing our nation. I wonder how many will change their affiliations to vote for Johnson in a Republican primary.

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