The Price of Prohibition

Forty years after Nixon declared war on drugs, it's time to give peace a chance.

Forty years ago this Friday, President Richard Nixon announced that "public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse." Declaring that "the problem has assumed the dimensions of a national emergency," he asked Congress for money to "wage a new, all-out offensive," a crusade he would later call a "global war on the drug menace."

The war on drugs ended in May 2009, when President Obama's newly appointed drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, said he planned to stop calling it that. Or so Kerlikowske claims. "We certainly ended the drug war now almost two years ago," he told Seattle's PBS station last March, "in the first interview that I did." If you watch the exchange on YouTube, you can see he said this with a straight face.

In reality, of course, Richard Nixon did not start the war on drugs, and Barack Obama, who in 2004 called it "an utter failure," did not end it. The war on drugs will continue as long as the government insists on getting between people and the intoxicants they want. And while it is heartening to hear a growing chorus of prominent critics decry the enormous collateral damage caused by this policy, few seem prepared to give peace a chance by renouncing the use of force to impose arbitrary pharmacological preferences.

"The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world," a recent report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy concludes. "Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won." Each year that we fail to face this reality, the report says, "billions of dollars are wasted on ineffective programs," "millions of citizens are sent to prison unnecessarily," and "hundreds of thousands of people die from preventable overdoses and diseases."

This strong criticism of the status quo was endorsed by the three former Latin American presidents who organized the commission—Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico—and 16 other notable names, including former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson.

The alternatives suggested by the commission are less impressive. The report calls for easing up on drug users and low-level participants in the drug trade while cracking down on "violent criminal organizations." But it is prohibition that enriches and empowers such organizations while encouraging them to be violent—a point the commission acknowledges. As a new report from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition notes regarding the escalating violence that has left some 40,000 people dead since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began an anti-drug crackdown in 2006, "this is a cycle that cannot and will not end until prohibition itself ends."

It is also prohibition that breeds official corruption, makes drug use more dangerous than it would otherwise be, and undermines civil liberties—all problems the commission highlights. Furthermore, a policy of decriminalizing possession while maintaining the bans on production and sale is morally incoherent: If drug use itself is not worthy of punishment, why should people go to prison merely for helping others commit this noncrime?

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Shultz and Volcker liken the war on drugs to alcohol prohibition, approvingly quote Milton Friedman's argument that "illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords" and "leads to the corruption of law enforcement officials," and then recoil in horror from the logical conclusion, saying "we do not support the simple legalization of all drugs." If illegality is the problem, legality is the solution.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2011 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • ||

    We certainly ended the drug war now almost two years ago

    It is not a war. It is a kinetic action.

  • Horse of Bob||

    I still can't buy wine in my supermarket. Why is there still a War on Wine?

  • Tim||

    Yeah, it's hard to build rage at Nixon with our current limp dick in the Oval Office.

  • ||

    Nixon seems competent and honest by comparison.

  • The Ghost of Richard Nixon||

    I told you: I am not a crook.

  • ||

    Yeah. We just didn't know what a real crook looked like back then.

  • ||

    I have a special place in my heart for Nixon despite all his idiocy. He ended the Vietnam draft right after my father got a really bad number. Probably wouldn't be alive if not for Nixon.

  • Tim||

    Nixon: Christmas Bombing

    Obama:Christmas, New Year's, President's Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Halloween, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving, Canadian Thanksgiving...

  • Fat Crack Ho||

    Are you saying the current dick is even trickier?

  • Concerned Mother||

    Every bag of heroin that is taken off the street is a life saved.

  • Homer J||

    Mrs. Lovejoy, if you weren't such a bitch, then the Reverend would probably stick his cock into you more often and you'd stop "thinking" about the "children" so fucking much!

  • Fellow Perv||

    Do you get a thrill up your leg when publicly posting obscenities? I know I do. I started by scribbling FUCK YOU in chalk on the side of the barber shop and it was a rush, I tell you. I don't know what I'd do without public internet forums.

  • F. Hart||

    ^^FAIL^^

  • Concerned Mother||

    For your information, Mr Smarty Pants, I do not need the Reverend's cock. I own a sybian.

  • Wind Rider||

    Well hows about you stick it on a wood floor, with an extension cord, then turn the damned thing up full blast (both knobs) then ride it around the room like a little choo choo train and stop bothering everyone else. Thanks.

  • Mr Whipple®©™||

    Giddy-up

  • The Little Engine||

    I THINK I CAN! I THINK I CAN! I THINK I CAN!

  • ||

    Drug czar Gil Kerlikowske claims the Obama administration ended this war two years ago.

    That's, Gil "Thugnificent" Kerlikowske.

    Rags to bitches, y'all.

  • ||

    From his wiki

    Kerlikowske faced criticism over the department's slow response to the 2001 Seattle Mardi Gras Riots that left one man dead and 70 people with injuries. During the incident, he ordered the police at the scene not to intervene, instead maintaining a perimeter around the violence. The City of Seattle acknowledged police strategy presented a public safety threat, and settled with the murder victim's family for just under $2,000,000. The next month, The Seattle Police Officers' Guild voted no confidence in the chief, citing both the Mardi Gras riot and his public reprimand of an officer for being rude to a group of alleged jaywalkers. Gil is known for his tough stance on marijuana even though it is widely believed he was arrested but not charged for possession of marijuana in Ocala, Florida in 1973.

    If you make the same mistake he made, you are going down. But if law enforcement involves any real danger, well he is good for putting up a perimeter and letting the animals sort it out amongst themselves.

  • ||

    I was just trying to make a fun Boondocks reference. Thanks, Capt. Bringdown.

  • Grandpa||

    What did I tell you about telling white people the truth?

    Don't even DREAM of telling white people the truth!

    Matter of fact, I'm gonna go find me a white man and lie to him right now!

  • some guy||

    ^ = The best quote from a great comic. Or was that from the animation?

  • ||

    kerlikowske was , and still is, a moronic cop-o-crat. officers i know from SPD were SEETHING that he would not let them intervene when people were fucking rioting and beating the shit out of people in downtown seattle.

    the politically incorrect reality was that the vast majority of rioters were gangbangers "of color" (as seattle times investigation revealed, as well as video evidence) and kerlikowske didn't want his cops to look like thugs by hitting people of color with sticks n shit (especially after WTO press coverage) so he figured it would be better for rioting to happen w/out police interference

    that's the kind of craven cowardly fuckstick kerlikowske was as a police chief

    and christopher kime died because of it.

    when people are rioting, you act. and if it looks bad on teevee, too fucking bad. the fact that this cowardly politician was hired by the obama admin says everything you need to know about the obama admin

    note also that kerlikowske refused to call for mutual aid from neighboring agencies during the mardi gras riot THEN later tried to claim that they were "insufficiently staffed" to address the rioting

    how stupid is that?

    it was all about politics, cowardice and trying to avoid looking like thugs on CNN vs. doing the job SPD is supposed to do and not worrying about how it looked on teevee

  • Martin Crane||

    I would have taught those thugs a thing or two. Wouldn't I have, Frasier?

  • ||

    actually, you are a good example of leftwing antigun bias in the media

    a retired SPD cop who still lives in the city, but never once is seen strapping on a handgun for concealed carry. and he's disabled with a cane but doesn't carry a gun for protection?

    yea, that's realistic.

  • ||

    the "danger" kerlikowske was worried about was the cops looking like jackbooted thugs on CNN for hitting people of color with sticks (which NEVER looks good, no matter if justified or not), not danger to the cops as in getting hurt.

    remember, he REFUSED to call for mutual aid despite the fact the WSP et al told the SPD they were on standby awaiting his call.

    he didn't want unsavory videos on CNN. it wasn't about doing the right thing. it was about doing the politically correct thing

  • Number 2||

    NEWS ITEM: Kerlikowski Claims Drug War is Ended.

    So the Obama Administration's recent threats to vigorously enforce drug wars against medical marijuana cultivators and distributors are what then...?

  • Number 2||

    Sorry..I meant to say "vigorously enforce drug laws."

  • ||

    I told you. They are a kinetic action. They are not a war.

  • Sinic||

    Too many government jobs depend on the drug war, or drug kinetic paramilitary action, or whatever it's called now. And even if the devil weed is legalized, the drug war will continue as is for the other drugs. At least until we can't afford it anymore.

  • Wind Rider||

    Until we can't afford it? Hellooooooo? Wanna put a little something towards this tab you been runnin?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Eric Holder is like one of those Japanese soldiers found isolated on an island in the South Pacific, unaware that his war ended years ago. Also, the DEA and other law enforcement and prosecutors are on their own respective islands continuing to wage a war that the outside world had already declared over.

    Either that, or the war never actually ended on the word of an unelected administration official.

  • ||

    Of course,every one who uses a non approved drug is considered a addict.I also belive they hang on to the war on pot because once it's legal the cartels will lose huge amouts of profit and no harm will come of it.Let's be clear,the number of people in the population addicted to coke,meth,herion ect,is very small.Get rid of the WOR and you could treat those people and have a ton of cash left over.Nixion's WOD was a war on hippies and those who hated him.Going aferter pot,a very mild drug when compared to all others{including alcohol} was a war on his enemies.

  • Sinic||

    If someone could do a real clinical study on the weight maintenance properties of the MJ, they might find that it works both ways and helps people not gain, or even lose weight (from what I've seen and heard it does with some people). There are more than enough fatties around to get it legalized.

  • Doc S.||

    Medicinal Fried Chicken

  • Freda Fattie ||

    Desoxyn works just fine, thank you.

  • sarcasmic||

    The destruction of personal liberty is a feature, not a bug.

  • Mr Whipple||

    If we ended the WOD, and legalized or decriminalized drugs, we would be violating the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs Treaty and United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

    Isn't there something in the Constitution about treaties?

  • Ezra Klein||

    ** snickers **

    Yeah, about treaties with pirates or something!

  • ||

    Yes their is but,a treaty baning all guns or free speech would be illegal under the constitution.You can't take away rights just because the U,N.. say's so.Of course treaties were to be between countries,not a bastard chid such as the U.N.

  • Mr Whipple®©™||

    Point taken, but if the Congress agrees to a treaty that is unconstitutional, wouldn't it be the same as Congress passing an unconstitutional law? The recourse would be the courts, yes?

  • Wind Rider||

    How about treaties that insane clown bureaucrats from a superpower arm twisted everyone else into going along with. . .

  • Mr Whipple®©™||

    Hey, those dumb asses agreed to the Bretton Woods....oh wait...

  • Tim||

    What about the fucking Commerce Clause?

  • some guy||

    What about it? If some dude wants to grow his own pot for his own personal use, how can that possibly fall under the Commerce Clause?

    Oh, wait...

  • Wind Rider||

    Because Nino said so, so shut up.

  • Future TPTB||

    If drug use itself is not worthy of punishment, why should people go to prison merely for helping others commit this noncrime?

    You know, you're right. Users and dealers should be "treated."

  • ||

    Those Candidate/Senator Obama quotes displaying his utter and total lack of moral principle are simultaneously grim and hysterical. I knew so many back in 2008-2009 who earnestly believed that he represented some radical break with traditional politics. Here, a darkly comic blast from the past to start off your mornings:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/.....060608.DTL

    Dismiss it all you like, but I've heard from far too many enormously smart, wise, spiritually attuned people who've been intuitively blown away by Obama's presence - not speeches, not policies, but sheer presence - to say it's just a clever marketing ploy, a slick gambit carefully orchestrated by hotshot campaign organizers who, once Obama gets into office, will suddenly turn from perky optimists to vile soul-sucking lobbyist whores, with Obama as their suddenly evil, cackling overlord.

    Here's where it gets gooey. Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul...

    ... Don't buy any of it? Think that's all a bunch of tofu-sucking New Agey bulls-- and Obama is really a dangerously elitist political salesman whose inexperience will lead us further into darkness because, when you're talking national politics, nothing, really, ever changes? I understand. I get it. I often believe it myself.

    Not this time.
  • barfman||

    Everybody step back, this one's gonna be bad...

  • some guy||

    Has Mr. Moford written a follow-up article? Is he still ankles deep in this "Lighworker?"

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Apparently Obama has lost his Lightworker status (but just barely) and has fallen into mere Great Man territory instead.

    The great Barack Obama conundrum

  • ||

    Ugh, that column is fucking nauseating. The only cold comfort I have is that some actually have the moral consistency (Glen Greenwald comes immediately to mind) to call the bullshit that they see. "But but but Buuuush!" and "hey, look over here at those nasty Republicans!" is getting really fucking old.

    Also it looks like poor little Mark got horribly offended by some of the comments getting too close to home, so many of them are purged.

    Bonus points to one of the commentariat who claims that "the US isn't really at 'war' with Libya". Yeah, sure, no "boots on the ground" means it's not a war. Just like when the Japanese killed my great-uncle on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor without putting any boots on the ground, and the nation shrugged it off as a bit of harmless kinetic military action.

  • Wind Rider||

    Yeah, he's a lightworker alright. He passes off the 'light' work to a bunch of apparently incompetent but zealous true believers to fully implement a Cloward-Piven result. Yeah, it so fulfills my life to be a lab rat in an eggheaded socialogical experiment that someone dreamed up after a few hits of windowpane.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    C'mon man, they know what's best.

  • ola||

    I think what these drug reformers are proposing makes perfect sense. They are just trying to align modern drug prohibition with alcohol prohibition. IIRC the 18th amendment only prohibited "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States", not the actual possession or use. Therefore modern drug warrior "reformers" want to not punish the user but only the "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating substances within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States". Now I understand, it makes perfect sense. We'll propose the same solution and expect different results.

  • Wind Rider||

    . . .while insisting the two are TOTALLY different.

  • ||

    My reading of the Constitution finds no mention of drugs, neither prescription nor recreational. Therefore, by the plain text of the Tenth Amendment, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.", the regulation of ALL drugs is properly a State issue. The Federal government has NO power to regulate drugs whatsoever.

  • sarcasmic||

    You missed the part where Congress has the power to make laws that are "necessary and proper" to "regulate commerce" and promote the "general welfare".

    There's nothing left to the states.

    Nothing at all.

    Seven words give the federal government unlimited power.

  • Wind Rider||

    So, they have the power to make a Congressional Suicide pact to remove themselves from our national nightmare, and yet they hesitate? Pussies.

  • Liberal ||

    Null and void - was written by white male slave holders.

  • Wind Rider||

    A practice that continues today. Congressman Weiner was simply searching for a white male slave to serve as a holder. . .

  • ola||

    The controlled substance act states the authority through the "to regulate commerce among the several states" as the constitutional power to prohibit some substances. That's the same authority used to ban light bulbs, impose a health insurance mandate, and on and on. Until that issue is confronted by conservatives, that the commerce clause is bad in ALL circumstances where it is ill-used, then they do not have the high ground to argue against it when it affects something sacred to them.

  • Shawna||

    Hi, I'm a nice black lady from ghetto USA from a family of junkies who had a shitstorm childhood. If this talking about the drug war ever gets a big primetime TV debate, the Drug War guys are gonna put me on and I'm gonna cry.
    Thank you.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Get back in the petri dish, Shawna. They aren't finished experimenting on you.

  • LaShawna||

    I want to be able to buy mascara, gum, and some crack at the CVS.

  • KW6||

    You're all missing the point.

    They don't care about the drugs, they want the POWER.

  • Marcus Welby||

    It's hard to take the WOD seriously when it's been extended to prescription drugs and physicians. Doctors are afraid to prescribe narcotics for fear of government reprisal while at the same time the NIH, FDA, Medicare, et.al. and NGO's are insisting pain relief be a priority - after it was discovered patients were taking megadoses of over the counter pain relievers or, had resorted to buying narcs off the street.

  • ||

    from a purely practical perspective, it will also help immensely when and if an analgesic is developed that does not have sideeffectsbenefitsdrawbacks of being a "fun high" but simply - kills the pain effectively.

    basically, like a pharmaceutical scalene block w/o the pesky paralyzation aspect :)

  • Katie McMenamin||

    Seems like the perfect economic time for the powered that be as they squabble over farm subsidies to realize the cash cow of money they could make if they legalized drugs and taxed it like they tax alcohol, one of the most dangerous drugs around...its the only one that if you are going severe withdrawal you could actually die....all the street drugs are hard to get off, but you ju st feel like you are going to die, you don't actually die. Sorry digress ...but taxing illegal drugs would take all the money from the drug lords and give it to our congressional overlords, who might be very similar, but right now, with money tight, they might do the right thing and pay down the defecit....

  • ||

    WHEN IN THE COURSE OF HUMAN EVENTS IT BECOMES SELF EVIDENT THAT CORRUPTION FLOWS FROM THE PROHIBITION OF CANNABIS, IT IS THEN A CRIME TO KEEP SUCH LAWS ENFORCED, AND DUE TO THE SERIOUSNESS OF THIS CRIME IT MUST BE LABELED WHAT IT REALLY IS,

    WHICH IS FEDERALLY AND STATE FUNDED DISCRIMINATION AGAINST NON VIOLENT TAX PAYING WORKING VOTERS WHO HAVE CHOOSEN TO USE THE WORLD'S NUMBER ONE NON TOXIC NON ADDICTIVE NATURAL RESOURCE TO RELAX WITH INSTEAD OF DEADLY ALCOHOL OR TOBACCO.

    What do you call it when a government which allows itself to grow pot but denies its own people the same rights, uses lies, fraud, denial of facts and truths enforced by military might, advanced tactics and polictial power to attack people who are other wise law abidding, and who do not attack back and instead end up in prisons?
    It is called terrorism, even if it the the U.S. Gov doing it, it is still terrorism and all elected officals are guilty of this crime.

  • D.M. Mitchell||

    The so-called war on drugs is actually a war on the concept of inalienable rights: Complete ownership and use of one's body and mind where such use does not violate the rights of others.The so-called war on drugs, from a federal standpoint, started in 1914 with the Harrison Narcotics Act. Basically that Act made religious beliefs about perceived immoral behavior into secular law, a violation of the First Amendment's "establishment of religion clause. See my single issue blog: The Myth of Inalienable Rights at http://dowehaverights.blogspot.com.

  • roguepatriot||

    The Drug War is not a war it's a scam. It's makework for bureaucrats (police unions and other law enforcement agencies) and it's cartelish policy to protect the pharmaceutical industry. Originally, the Drug War began in 1937 when Dow Chemical wanted the government to protect their synthetic products from competition from hemp-based products.

  • زفات||

    thank you

  • air max||

    is good

  • قبلة الوداع||

    thank u

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