by Mark Hinkle, chair of the Libertarian Party
On June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a ‘War on Drugs,’ which has become a relentless violation of the lives and property of Americans, including many who have never taken illegal drugs. These violations continue under President Barack Obama, an admitted former cocaine user who has shown no hesitation in throwing people into prison — a punishment he might have suffered had he been caught. Moreover, although promising to respect medical marijuana use in states where voters have approved it, the Obama administration has already conducted close to 100 raids on patients, growers, and compassion centers in those states.
America’s first experiment in prohibition involved alcohol, and is widely recognized as a failure. Approved in 1919, Prohibition I led to a steady rise in both alcohol usage and violent crime. The murder rate rose 50% between 1919 and 1933, peaking at 9.7 murders per 100,000 population in 1933, when the country finally decided enough was enough. Immediately after the repeal of Prohibition I, gangsterism went into a swift decline, with all of the major gangs disappearing within 18 months, and the murder rate dropping every single year for more than a decade.
Prohibition II — the War on Drugs — has been another tragedy. We applaud the efforts of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization of current and former police, prosecutors, judges, DEA agents, and others, which issued a 20-page report this month detailing the tragic results of this misguided crusade, entitled ‘Ending the Drug War: a Dream Deferred.’
In their report, LEAP documented some of the measurable costs: over a million people arrested each year, a trillion dollars spent, and drug gangsterism at a level that dwarfs its alcohol equivalent and which has led to a bloodbath in Mexico that is spilling over into the United States. Not because of drugs, but because of drug laws. And over 120 million Americans have used illicit drugs: only the most deluded observer believes the laws have curbed drug abuse, and only the cruelest believes that 40% of the American population belongs in prison. No wonder 67% of police chiefs say the War on Drugs is a failure.
Ultimately, of course, this tragedy is the result of our government’s refusal to allow people to engage in peaceful choices as to what they consume. Even if drug use were to rise upon a return to the American tradition of tolerance that existed before the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act, our streets would be safer, innocent people would not have their homes raided and pets killed by narcotics agents entering the wrong house, victims of asset forfeiture laws wouldn’t have their houses and other assets seized without due process, and resources would be freed to spend on improving peoples’ lives instead of destroying them.
Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drug use, including substances classified as hard drugs. As a Cato Report entitled ‘Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies’ showed, drug use dropped over the next several years and the Portuguese now use marijuana at lower levels than Americans use cocaine.
It only took Americans 14 years to realize the insanity of Prohibition I. Both practical considerations and simple human decency demand that our government end Prohibition II now.
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