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Prohibition part two works as well as the original

Michael Swickard

“Part of the tragedy that we Mexicans are living through has to do with the fact that we are next to the world’s greatest drug consumer.” – Mexican President Felipe Calderon, said on Aug. 26

So far the American War on Drugs has worked exactly like the first prohibition that concerned alcohol. Sadly, the object of our current prohibition, illegal drugs, is even more prevalent now than when the War on Drugs started.

Worse, as a nation we have spent billions of dollars making our country into almost a police state without affecting the availably and use of these drugs other than to clog the prisons with drug users and sellers. The tools and sophistication involved in this battle have increased, but the basic premise of the intervention has not.

It would seem that we as a country learned nothing from the turbulent years when as a nation we tried to prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol. President Calderon is correct; our country is the greatest drug consumer in the world. It is hard to deny American’s love for drugs. What is the effect of that love?

First, the drug cartels in Mexico exist solely because of the money paid by Americans for illegal drugs. Second, our nation is more entwined with drugs now than when the efforts started. Finally, Congress continues to not take any significant steps to address the harm we are causing other countries and ourselves.

While I do not, if I was of a mind to buy illegal drugs it is exactly just as easy to buy drugs on the street today as it was in the 1960s. It is true that the actual drugs being abused have changed somewhat, though the abusers of drugs over the years has consistently included young people. Over these years the one intervention for the prohibition of illegal drugs that our country has tried is to hire enough police so that illegal drugs disappear.

With the addition of millions of new members of law enforcement, it would seem this strategy is not working and will not work. What concerns me is that, in the War on Drugs, there is basically nothing new being tried. There are no new plans other than to keep doing what has not worked.


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Before you get hopeful, I do not have a plan to deal with illegal drugs. Shuckins. But at least I admit that I have no plan. In the 1960s the plan was to catch some users and get them to name their suppliers and then incarcerate those people. As a society we have incarcerated millions of suppliers, but the supply of illegal drugs is exactly as robust as it always has been.

It’s time for an honest appraisal

So when are we going to stop doing what we have always done? We are still getting what we have always gotten, namely, not anything sustainable. There are some people who would like to give up on the prohibition of drugs and have the government tax and license those substances. I have never advocated this approach, but lately it is looking better as everything else does not have any affect on the illegal drug problem. Catching users and sellers does not seem to change the fortunes of the cartels and drug producers.

If we are to deal with the drug problem, we have to state the problem: First, our nation’s approach to illegal drugs provides a fertile ground for the development of criminal activities and crime syndicates both nationally and internationally. Second, the drugs being used by Americans are of uncertain origin, strength and purity. Finally, millions of people are being incarcerated without changing the availability of illegal drugs.

It is time for an honest appraisal of our drug policies. I know it is an industry both in providing and trying to stop the importation and use. Millions of people make their living on the misfortunes of those poor souls who use drugs.

Maybe legalization with pharmacy control is the only way to keep the money out of the hands of the drug cartels. All I know is there are no other approaches that show any signs of success. We must find new ways to deal with these problems, regardless of the answers.

Swickard is co-host of the radio talk show News New Mexico, which airs from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on KSNM-AM 570 in Las Cruces and throughout the state through streaming. His e-mail address is michael@swickard.com.

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

  1. I am afraid I have to agree with you Michael,

    All that the war on drugs has accomplished is thousands of american citizens in jail, and huge government bureaucracies that cost millions of dollars each year. I have become a firm believer in the fact that you cannot stop anyone from doing something they decide to do. Sure we have reduced bank roberies, and it would probably be difficult to build an atomic bomb in your basement, but from a practical standpoint if you want drugs, automatic weapons, or some other controlled item bad enough you can get it. I think the only realistic way to deal with illicit drug abuse is the way we deal with prescription drug abuse or alcohol abuse. If it doesn’t cause any problems for anyone else leave them alone, but if drug users perform illegal acts then punish them for those acts.

  2. Mark Best,

    I do not believe that anyone has advocated “surrender.” A more reasoned course of action conducive to producing results which undermine the criminal profitiablity of illegal drugs is what is being suggested. Too bad that so many would see that as an “either or” proposition.

    The repeal of the Volstead Act did not destroy the nation, and neither would the decriminalization of certain narcotics. Continued availability from illegal sources defeats the ability to collective revenue, therefore costing twice the price to convict and incarcerate.

    By adopting a system of regulation and dispersal of certain drugs, not unlike the current system of prescription drugs already being abused by millions of Americans, we merely diminish the profitability of criminal enterprise by creating competition in the marketplace. Simpl market economics could provide us with a tool to fund intervention and rehabilitation, rather then creating another generation of felons, and an even more clogged justice system.

    When prescription drugs are abused by those who drive, we are already at risk. It is the behavior of the individual, not the drug itself which is the problem, and therefore a war against an inanimate object is a waste of resources and a failed strategy from conception… sort of like a war on terror.

  3. It seems as if the cry of “legalize drugs!” is being heard everywhere. Some people argue that legalizing drugs is the only way to “win” the drug war.

    I agree that drug enforcement does place a burden on us. Economic resources are used up that could be used elsewhere. But the consequences of legalizing drugs would make an already large problem completely out of control. Do you really wanted to share the road with a greater number folks driving under the influence of legally obtained hallucinogens?

    I believe that we need to look more on educating children on the dangers of drugs. We need more border control whose purpose is keeping the drug dealers from bringing the drugs into the country in the first place.

    I am more concerned with drug dealers who sell the drugs than the person who buys them. I am more concerned about people who are under the influence of drugs such as PCP, cocaine and heroin than those who are smoking pot in the privacy of their own home.

    However, just because some of the effort may be misplaced, that does not mean we should throw in the towel and make all currently illegal drugs legal. Re-focus our efforts, yes. Eliminate our efforts, no.

  4. We will never come to sensible drug legalization/decriminalization policies in this country until we recognize that we have a huge sector of business, as well as government, whose entire existence depends on drugs being illegal.

    With all the cries for cuts to “entitlement” spending being thrown about by the right, how about instead we save some money in this area first? If we look at how much money goes down the drain to fund everything from street-level narcotics interventions, to keeping drug offenders in our jails and prisons to, failed ATF and FBI adventures, or paying for the personnel infrastructure to staff every organization tasked with dealing with drug offenses and it’s related crimes–our government could secure the Social Security Trust fund for generations. And that’s not counting all the private enterprise involved that siphons off taxpayer dollars for mandatory drug testing or court mandated treatments, pharmaceutical companies who get rich off cancer and chronic pain patients who are not allowed to smoke marijuana–the list goes on, and on and on. Big money=access to Legislators=no change to the status quo.

    There are far too many people who are making their living LEGALLY off illegal drugs–don’t count on their cooperation in repealing Prohibition.2.0.

  5. Message to all fence-sitters:

    Each day you remain silent, you help to destroy the Constitution, fill the prisons with our children, and empower terrorists and criminals worldwide while wasting hundreds of billions of your own tax dollars. Prohibition bears many strong and startling similarities to Torquemada­’s inquisition­, it’s supporters are servants of tyranny and hate who’s sole purpose is to make the rest of us suffer their putrid legacy of incalculable waste and destruction.

    Prohibition engendered black market profits are obscenely huge. Remove this and you remove the ability to bribe or threaten any government official or even whole governments. The argument that legalized regulation won’t severely cripple organized crime is truly bizarre. Of course, the bad guys won’t just disappear, but if you severely diminish their income, you also severely diminish their power. The proceeds from theft, extortion, pirated goods etc. are a drop in the ocean compared to what can be earned by selling prohibited/unregulated drugs in a black market estimated to be worth 400,000 million dollars. The immense illegal capital, gifted through prohibition, is what gives these criminal cartels and terrorists power. Power that has allowed them to expand into other areas with near total impunity.

    Millions of fearless North Africans have recently shown us that recognizing oppression also carries the weight of responsibility to act upon and oppose that oppression. Prohibition is a vicious anti-constitutional assault on ALL American citizens by a criminally insane and dysfunctional government, which left unchallenged will end with the destruction of the entire nation.

  6. Case in point, things seem to be going pretty well in Amsterdam where the open use and sales of marijuana has been legal for years.

  7. Amen! What a self inflicted wound. I hate to be so cynical, who who/how is this going to get fixed? The D’s don’t want to be associated with their hippy past, and the R’s, but for an idiologically consistent and often libertarian leaning few, tend to get hyper-hypocritcal (we don’t want gov’t in our lives, except…) on this issue. Throw in the political reality of having to overcome the collective interests of the prison industry, the law enforcement industry (to their honor and credit, LEAP not withstanding), and of course, organized crime, I’m not sure how we’ll ever get there.

  8. It seems to me that Britain has a sensible policy, at least WRT cocaine– I read a while back that they give addicts their strictly controlled dosage, which keeps them functioning. And their drug dealer population has plumetted.

  9. What took you so long, Michael?

    Prohibition does nothing but bankroll dangerous criminals, corrupt whole law enforcement agencies and generously arm international terrorists. Alcohol prohibition (1919-1933) was a casebook example of such dangerous folly. Today, alcohol is taxed and regulated and the shoot-outs over turf and the killing of innocent bystanders are no longer a daily part of the alcohol trade. So how come so many of us lack the simple ability to learn from such an important historical lesson, and are instead intent on perpetuating the madness and misery that prohibition has always invariably engendered? 

    It is clearly our always-doomed-to-fail policy of prohibition that is causing this intense misery. We need to fix ourselves (start thinking clearly) and in doing so, we will not only help rid ourselves of this terrible self-inflicted curse but also help to heal the whole planet.

    Are we really such an adolescent nation that we can expect neither maturity nor cognitive thought from either our leaders or our populace? This is not a war on drugs; it’s an outright war on sanity!

    Colombia, Peru, Mexico or Afghanistan, with their coca leaves, marijuana buds or their poppy sap, are not igniting temptation in the minds of poor weak American citizens. These countries are merely responding to the enormous demand that comes from within our own borders. Invading or destroying those countries, creating more hate, violence, instability, injustice and corruption, will not fix this problem. We need to admit that It is ourselves who are sick. Prohibition is neither a sane nor a safe approach. Left unabated, it’s devouring inferno will surely engulf every last one of us!

  10. Mr. Swickard,

    L.E.A.P. or Law Enforcement Against Prohibition has been promoting this message for years. People can obtain up to the minute coverage of the details in the fight to end the senseless prohibition that has been official American policy for almost 40 years at http://www.leap.cc/

    Oh yeah, and be sure to friend them on facebook… if you dare.

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