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March 18, 2016

Making the (Trumpian?) case for winning the drug war via full legalization

HarpersWeb-Cover-201604-302x410_black This cover story of the April 2016 issue of Harper's magazine is authored by Dan Baum and is headlined "Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs."  And, as I mean to suggest via  the headline of this post, this article may be channeling what GOP Prez candidate front-runner Donald Trump really thinks about how to improve modern drug policy in the US.  (Recall that I had this post on my marijuana reform blog, way back when Trump first announced his serious run for the Oval Office last summer, which highlights that Trump not all that long ago had once suggested full legalization would be the only way to "win" the drug war.)  Here are is an except from the first part of the lengthy Harper's piece:

Nixon’s invention of the war on drugs as a political tool was cynical, but every president since — Democrat and Republican alike — has found it equally useful for one reason or another. Meanwhile, the growing cost of the drug war is now impossible to ignore: billions of dollars wasted, bloodshed in Latin America and on the streets of our own cities, and millions of lives destroyed by draconian punishment that doesn’t end at the prison gate; one of every eight black men has been disenfranchised because of a felony conviction.

As long ago as 1949, H. L. Mencken identified in Americans “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy,” an astute articulation of our weirdly Puritan need to criminalize people’s inclination to adjust how they feel.  The desire for altered states of consciousness creates a market, and in suppressing that market we have created a class of genuine bad guys — pushers, gangbangers, smugglers, killers.  Addiction is a hideous condition, but it’s rare. Most of what we hate and fear about drugs — the violence, the overdoses, the criminality — derives from prohibition, not drugs. And there will be no victory in this war either; even the Drug Enforcement Administration concedes that the drugs it fights are becoming cheaper and more easily available.

Now, for the first time, we have an opportunity to change course. Experiments in alternatives to harsh prohibition are already under way both in this country and abroad. Twenty-three states, as well as the District of Columbia, allow medical marijuana, and four — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska — along with D.C., have legalized pot altogether.  Several more states, including Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, will likely vote in November whether to follow suit.

Portugal has decriminalized not only marijuana but cocaine and heroin, as well as all other drugs.  In Vermont, heroin addicts can avoid jail by committing to state-funded treatment. Canada began a pilot program in Vancouver in 2014 to allow doctors to prescribe pharmaceutical-quality heroin to addicts, Switzerland has a similar program, and the Home Affairs Committee of Britain’s House of Commons has recommended that the United Kingdom do likewise.  Last July, Chile began a legislative process to legalize both medicinal and recreational marijuana use and allow households to grow as many as six plants.  After telling the BBC in December that “if you fight a war for forty years and don’t win, you have to sit down and think about other things to do that might be more effective,” Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos legalized medical marijuana by decree. In November, the Mexican Supreme Court elevated the debate to a new plane by ruling that the prohibition of marijuana consumption violated the Mexican Constitution by interfering with “the personal sphere,” the “right to dignity,” and the right to “personal autonomy.”  The Supreme Court of Brazil is considering a similar argument.

Depending on how the issue is framed, legalization of all drugs can appeal to conservatives, who are instinctively suspicious of bloated budgets, excess government authority, and intrusions on individual liberty, as well as to liberals, who are horrified at police overreach, the brutalization of Latin America, and the criminalization of entire generations of black men.  It will take some courage to move the conversation beyond marijuana to ending all drug prohibitions, but it will take less, I suspect, than most politicians believe.  It’s already politically permissible to criticize mandatory minimums, mass marijuana-possession arrests, police militarization, and other excesses of the drug war; even former attorney general Eric Holder and Michael Botticelli, the new drug czar — a recovering alcoholic — do so. Few in public life appear eager to defend the status quo.

A few prior related posts:

March 18, 2016 at 12:10 PM | Permalink


We sure didn't get much reform from George H W "Halcyon" Bush, Bill "Nose like a vacuum cleaner" Clinton, George W "Drinking dual" Bush, and Barack "Choom gang" Obama.

Maybe a teetotaler is what we need to get some rational policy.

Posted by: Boffin | Mar 18, 2016 12:38:28 PM

The problem now is we've got so many damn people with their finger in the pie!

On the "Baptist" side there's DEA, FBI, police, prosecutors, defense attys, jailers, probation officers, drug rehabbers, addiction specialists, and on and on and on. Perhaps a million or more Pillars of the Community making their living (and a good one) from the drug market.

On the "Bootlegger" side are not just the dealers big and small, but the gangs, protection rackets, money laundering fronts, corrupt officials, and at some point the major banks.

So much money and so many people on the take--whether legit or not. I'd ask any drug warrior seeing these words to look at the breathtaking scale of waste and graft and consider whether this cost is worth it for a purer society.

Posted by: Boffin | Mar 18, 2016 12:51:40 PM

Suicide should be painless. Legalize heroin. Sell large doses in a single bound. There are too many humans on Earth. Let em be happy and let em die when they want to go.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Mar 18, 2016 1:28:49 PM

He used to be pro-choice too.

He's running for office now. Insert the usual cynical stuff and how that changes things.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 18, 2016 2:20:55 PM

For once I am in complete agreement with Liberty1st ; make it as cheap and easy as possible for those with the inclination to do away with themselves.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 19, 2016 2:15:19 AM

You all may have nailed it. With so many benefiting on both sides of the law, one might ghink its better to just let them run wild, romper room.

I doubt the day will ever come. Politicians appear uncaring and cuth, if they legalize it all.

Alcohol is inexpensive and we have a serious problem with that and its not near as addictive as drugs, at least for most. Look at the Revenue it generates for for the legal beagles and rehab facilities. Holy smolly. Watch the show moonshiners a few times, I like it, but look at the conditions and slop they throw together. Whew.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Mar 19, 2016 8:48:09 AM

If suicide should be protected, I think better ways should be available then heroin which I'd assume is a rather risk/imperfect way to die, including as a matter of pain.

Note that "decriminalized" etc. is not necessarily "full legalization" and realistically, at least early on, this is a matter of stages. This is so when even talk of legalization of marijuana leads people to say 'well, you want to legalization everything right?' And, you have two sides in effect agreeing. One side positively (it's the only principled way!), the other side negatively (if you want pot, you must mean everything & that makes you a nut).

Posted by: Joe | Mar 19, 2016 9:57:57 AM

As someone knows little about this I wonder whether the legalizations that are taking place are really anything out of the ordinary. At all times in history there may be legalizations and bans taking place at various countries-can you find examples today of countries banning more drugs or cracking down on drugs? Is the slowdown in the drug war really a global phenomenon?

Posted by: random | Mar 19, 2016 10:58:54 AM

Before these substances were illegal, they were all available over the counter. Housewives who used cocaine could buy a coke or an over the counter medication. They did not have to rob a carry out.

Those who have a propensity for addiction represent a small portion of the population - perhaps 10%. We have all taken heroin derivatives during our lives when we needed pain medication following surgery or an accident etc. The vast majority of the population does not become addicted - when we no longer need it we don't take it.

Of course we should legalize the substance and should only concentrate on treating that small % of the population that becomes addicted with a medical model. If we remove drugs and addiction from law enforcement and the criminal justice system we'll save billions and also have a more productive and prosperous country.

Posted by: beth | Mar 19, 2016 3:18:57 PM

This article, like nearly all articles, pro or con, on this issue, only discusses one side of the problem. There is never any discussion of what is on the other side of the equal sign.

The discussion is always about the flow of drugs North but never about the flow of dollars South. The dollars we send South have enabled criminals to corrupt their local and national governments, to kill police, government officials, and journalists with near impunity, and to create large geographical areas where the national governments are unable to exercise any sovereignty.

And of course there is a comprehensive effort to stanch the flow of drugs North, but virtually no effort to stanch the flow of dollars South. Why is that?

Posted by: Fred | Mar 20, 2016 9:37:13 AM

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