Drug Policy

'End This War on Drugs'

|

Last week San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom called for an end to the war on drugs yet insisted he was not talking about legalization. Yeah, I'm not sure what that means either, but his remarks were refreshing both for their candor and for their challenge to his fellow Democrats:

"If you want to get serious, if you want to reduce crime by 70% in this country overnight, end this war on drugs," he told reporters at City Hall on Thursday. "You want to get serious, seriously serious about crime and violence, end this war on drugs."

The mayor maintained local jails are overcrowded with people incarcerated for drug offenses, taking up room that could be used to hold more violent criminal offenders. He said violent criminals with lengthy felony records are being turned loose, too often….

In a ten-minute tirade about the drug war's failure, Newsom told reporters that most politicians—including those in his own party—just don't have the guts to admit the obvious.

"It's laughable that anyone could look at themselves with a straight face and say, 'Oh,we're really succeeding.' I mean, it's comedy. And as I say, shame on my party, the Democratic Party, because they don't have the courage of their private thoughts, because we don't want to appear weak on this topic," Newsom said.

The mayor said the "politicizing" of the illegal drug use issue prevents a discussion about real solutions to the drug epidemic.

"End this war on drugs. Now, that is an attack ad by any politician, what I just said, they would be desperate to find that tape of what I just said," Newsom said.

The mayor insisted, however, that he wasn't calling for the legalization of all drugs—just a recognition that the current approach isn't working.

Trying to rebut Newsom, Gary Delagnes, head of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, implicitly criticized him for not going far enough:

Delagnes pointed to three murders occuring in San Francisco on Wednesday alone, which means the city has already surpassed last year's homicide total.

"When we see the homicides in San Francisco, I mean this all centers around drugs," Delagnes continued. "This is gangs and drug violence, this is money. It's all about money all the time."

Since the only way to eliminate black market violence is to eliminate the black market, I guess Delagnes, unlike Newsom, does support legalization.

Addendum: As Dave Weigel noted in June, Newark's Cory Booker is another sitting mayor who is fed up with the war on drugs.

[Thanks to CK for the tip.]

NEXT: Salon to Gore and Other Eco-Ghouls: Stop Your Sobbing

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “Last week San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom called for an end to the war on drugs yet insisted he was not talking about legalization.”

    He could have been talking about decriminalization, or more likely, stopping the war on drugs. Stopping the war on drugs could just mean making drug enforcement a lower priority and stopping the military tactics and heavy handed federal involvement.

  2. Mayors see the WOD up close and personal. Maybe the legislative establishment should start listening to them.

  3. Anything short of legalization is still going to be problematic. Still, when a bid city mayor step out of Drug War La-La Land and speak the truth in daylight, it’s a great day.

  4. The words “legalize it?” came from a reporter. His response was “I’m not saying that. I’m saying get real about it.”

    I think the words “legalize it” are too loaded. They sound as though crack will be sold at convenience stores and heroin at the gas station.

  5. Anything short of legalization is still a much-needed step towards sanity. We won’t get there in one leap, but every step closer means fewer lives ruined.

  6. Goddamned hippies!

  7. I think the words “legalize it” are too loaded. They sound as though crack will be sold at convenience stores and heroin at the gas station.

    Kinda like alcohol and tobacco, huh? Maybe you’re right about the loaded words, though. How about we “regulate” the drugs?

  8. “Mayor calls for end of WoD.”

    Big News.

    “San Francisco Mayor calls for end of WoD.”

    Not so much. Wake me up when the mayor of Dallas comes on line.

    Unfortunately.

  9. “I think the words “legalize it” are too loaded. They sound as though crack will be sold at convenience stores and heroin at the gas station.”

    Ummm, in a perfect world….

  10. Hey, if Gavin Newsom can do for us what he did for gay marriage, I will become a fan.

    P.S. Unless he’s in a position to legislate nationally. Then we’re fucked…

  11. You can’t “legalize” drugs; that would mean chaos. Drooling, puking, twelve year old junkies in every doorway, et c.
    A five dollar fine should do the job.

    If you hit your head on the same brick wall enough times, eventually you might decide it’s not helping. However, if you’re being paid to bang somebody else’s head against that wall, everything seems to be working fine.

  12. “I think the words “legalize it” are too loaded. They sound as though crack will be sold at convenience stores and heroin at the gas station.”

    You mean the way beer is already? Where the seller is supposed to be sure the buyer is of the age of consent? I just don’t see how it would be any more problematic for 7-Eleven to simply expand their market. Our fears about drugs are so entrenched that most people are incapable of seeing analogy between selling alcohol and what are, for now, illegal drugs.

    The Kennedy Family amassed their considerable fortune bootlegging during the Prohibition Era. The same for the Mafia, et al, who have prospered from prostitution being against the law. Outlawing vices has only served to force the market price up which, in turn, gives those same outlaws increased, unwarranted political power in the next generation. In other words, prohibition is corrupting the political process by giving pull to the sort of people who’ve already demonstrated that they’re willing to prey on peoples’ weaknesses. In short, the WoD enables those who we should wish at all costs to prevent from holding sway over elected officials.

    Oh – and then there’s that whole “Free Country” thingy…

  13. Anything short of legalization is still a much-needed step towards sanity. We won’t get there in one leap, but every step closer means fewer lives ruined.

    Not necessarily. If you decriminalize by simply not enforcing the law, but it’s still technically illegal. What happens is, all the market participants are still criminal. So no legit businesses can get involved. There’s no regulation. No assurance of purity, quality, availability etc. Then of course you become a magnet for the trade. Criminal organizations from all over come to your town to buy large quantities to distribute at crazy markup else where. Contracts are not legally enforceable, so deals are still made at the end of gun.

    The drug warriors then point to the rising crime and chaos and say “See! We told you so. This is what happens when you legalize drugs.” and the WOD resumes apace.

  14. I don’t see any likelihood of a situation where drugs are legal and unregulated, but I can see a situation where drugs are legal and regulated. Yes, yes, I know, any regulation of drugs would be completely unacceptable from a libertarian perspective, but it would still be better than the violence of prohibition.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where the most pressing drug issue is the cocaine industry lobbyists pushing the EPA to relax regulations on their processing plants?

  15. “You can’t “legalize” drugs; that would mean chaos. Drooling, puking, twelve year old junkies in every doorway, etc. “

    Funny how we don’t see drooling, puking twelve year old alcoholics in every doorway just because alcohol is legal.

  16. So he thinks the WOD is stupid, but doesn’t want to legalize? So what does he want to do?

    Politicians are such pussies, even ones who have some sense.

  17. See the real problem is women.

    Drinking, gambling, smoking, snorting all became illegal about the time women starting voting.

    How’s that for an interesting correlation.

  18. …any regulation of drugs would be completely unacceptable from a libertarian Libertarian perspective…

    Perfect. Enemy. Good. If thousands of people don’t have to deal with the hell of going through the “justice” system for making a choice that doesn’t affect others, the only thing we have to worry about are compromises that make further freedom unlikely (e.g., what Warren said).

  19. It’s the fucking chriatians who combined sufferage and prohibition and wrapped it all up with a WWJD bow.

    I hope William Jennings Bryan was right about hell and is at a slow broil right about now.

  20. You can’t “legalize” drugs; that would mean chaos. Drooling, puking, twelve year old junkies in every doorway, etc.

    They are there already. Why do you think so many cities have “anti-panhandler” bylaws which give the cops the power to harrass them?

  21. …any regulation of drugs would be completely unacceptable from a perspective

    Completely? I don’t see any support for this notion. Alcohol and tobacco are highly regulated drugs. While there have been libertarian campaigns against smoking bans and interstate wine sale regulation, things like retail licensing, minimum purchasing age, and even high “sin” taxes are largely accepted even within the libertarian community.

    I think there’s near universal libertarian agreement, that a highly regulated drug market will be a vast improvement over prohibition.

  22. …any regulation of drugs would be completely unacceptable from a libertarian Libertarian perspective…

    Pardon me Mr Penguin, but I feel required to call bullshit on this one. I’ve been involved with the LP for around twenty years, in three different states. I’m not saying we aren’t a bowl of mixed nuts. Still, I’ve never encountered anyone active in the party taking a hard line “all or nothing” stand when it comes to ending prohibition.

  23. Drinking, gambling, smoking, snorting all became illegal about the time women starting voting.

    How’s that for an interesting correlation.

    Proposed – Drinking, gambling, smoking, snorting all became illegal as a result of women starting to vote.
    I could take the affirmative side in that debate. It wouldn’t be hopeless. It would be polically incorrect though.

  24. Not so much. Wake me up when the mayor of Dallas comes on line.

    Larry, how about the mayor of Newark?

  25. The War on Drugs does work, it just that most people don’t understand (or don’t want to admit) what its objectives are.

  26. HOW TO STOP THE DRUG WAR

    Select a well known upscale gated community. Conduct drug tests of effluent at main points of sewage outflow. Use as basis for further investigation of individuals to establish detailed list of target addresses.

    Put together a large SWAT team that can fit on a couple of disguised buses for simultaneous multiple night strikes in about 20 homes. Advise SWAT members that the targets are likely to have concealed guns and are known to be territorial.

    At the last minute, leak the raid to some amateur video hounds. Make reservations beforehand at upcoming crowded legislative hearings to change drug laws.

  27. J sub D

    In a strictly factual debate, I think you’d have a strong case. The WCTU was also active in the sufferagette movement. One common notion was that women, being more “genteel” would put an end to all forms corruption – of which alcoholism was deemed to be one.

    Many distillers funded campaigns against women’s sufferage on pure self-interest. They saw the high correlation between the sufferage movement and the temperance movement and (perhaps rightly) perceived that the one would lead to the other.

  28. Dan T. | October 9, 2007, 11:50am | #

    The War on Drugs does work, it just that most people don’t understand (or don’t want to admit) what its objectives are.

    Pray, continue. Enlighten us as to these true objectives, assuming them to be something that we libertarians haven’t previously perceived.

  29. Many distillers funded campaigns against women’s sufferage on pure self-interest. They saw the high correlation between the sufferage movement and the temperance movement and (perhaps rightly) perceived that the one would lead to the other.

    I only wish I could have been alive to support their efforts monetarily.

  30. The drug war is working according to a Newsweek article. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21154124/site/newsweek/

    Really a 24% increase in street price for 37 cities is a significant victory right? Of course that would still be 4% LESS than the predicted increase in heating oil costs this winter. (So how rare can it really be?)

  31. Ok Warren, maybe I picked the wrong subject.

    However, I stopped being active in the LP after running up against numerous people who told me how unprincipled I was in thinking that a given position was not tenable politically, and that instead of ABSOLUTE FREEDOM IMMEDIATELY?, compromise positions should be chosen where they 1) would not work against getting greater freedom later (e.g. energy “deregulation” in CA), and 2) be more palatable to voters.

  32. Pray, continue. Enlighten us as to these true objectives, assuming them to be something that we libertarians haven’t previously perceived.

    The objective is to keep the poor under control.

  33. Proposed – Drinking, gambling, smoking, snorting all became illegal as a result of women starting to vote.

    I was just too chickenshit to go all the way with my political incorrectness.

    Just a limp dick I suppose.

  34. Master T not trolling today? At least not on this thread. I agree with you the WOD is about control of poor and minority groups. Go to any “ethnic” or poor neighborhood and compare the presence of the “officers of the law” to that in a more affluent neighborhood.

  35. The objective is to keep the poor under control.

    Strangely enough, I half buy that.

    Libertarians are typecast as middle class elitists who don’t care about the poor, which is a useful stereotype for those who want to dismiss libertarian claims that statist policies often hurt the poor more than anyone else.

    OTOH, those who claim to “speak for the poor” often foster policies which seem designed to keep poor people in a dependent, client* status.

    *I’m using ‘client’ here in the Roman sense.

  36. Isn’t San Fransisco the same town where ultra-progressive liberals like Newsome zoned legal medical marijuana nearly out of existance?

    Newsome is okay if people are growing and smoking pot all by themselves. But once they start buying and selling it, it becomes commercial and someone might make a profit. He wants to end the drug war so his hippy friends can still get high, but he wants it to remain illegal because someone might get rich making a business out of it.

  37. The objective is to keep the poor under control.

    That is certainly one of the reasons. Wow, I’m agreeing with Dan T! I’ll have to go take a shower now. 😉

  38. “All laws which can be violated without doing anyone any injury are laughed at. Nat, so far are they from doing anything to control the desires and passion of man that, on the contrary, they direct and incite men’s thoughts toward those very objects; for we always strive toward what is forbidden and desire the things we are not allowed to have. And men of leisure are never deficient in the ingenuity needed to enable them to outwit laws framed to regulate things which cannot be entirely forbidden…He who tries to determine everything by law will foment crime rather than lessen it.”

    Spinoza

    Spinoza understood that laws against vices were bullshit long before the WOD. Check out “Vices are not Crimes” for an excellent essay about the differences between these two things. The author is Lysander Spooner.

  39. Another reason is that there are lots of benificiaries from the war on drugs. Cui Bono? Politicians, law enforcement, drugtesting companies and the prison industrial complex to name a few of the most obvious.

  40. Be careful what you wish for folks. When the WoD goes bye-bye, so does COPS.

  41. Be careful what you wish for folks. When the WoD goes bye-bye, so does COPS.

    You mean the TV show? That will foster renewed dedication in the struggle to end the WoD.

  42. Bad boys bad boys whatcha gonna do?

  43. I see an end to the WoD as being far more plausible than all-out legalization in the foreseeable future.

    Jaywalking is illegal, also, and you don’t see a “war” on that…

  44. Last week San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom called for an end to the war on drugs yet insisted he was not talking about legalization. Yeah, I’m not sure what that means either,

    Perhaps Mr. Newsom doesn’t suffer from the same cognitive dissonance that most others seem to. Maybe that’s why he’s not talking about legalization. If they legalize drugs, the next thing you know, people will be smoking and eating transfats in the city by the bay!

  45. The line about Newark and Legalization reminded me: If anyone wants to complain about the WOD to the Newark DEA office, just ask to talk to Brian Collier there.

  46. What do you mean, you’re not sure what that means?

    You seriously don’t understand that there was a major change in how drug laws were enforced starting the late 60s and early 70s?

    What are you, kidding me?

  47. The problems of violence are caused because drugs are illegal.
    So should drugs be legalized?
    Of course not.

    What we need to recognize is the mayors of San Francisco and Newark have hit bottom, for which we are thankful, but they both need to go through extensive rehab before they can think straight.

    Hysteria over drugs and its effect on clear thinking is evidently far more potent than any powder. Rehab may last for years? Lindsie Lohan and Britney Spears are lucky by comparison?

  48. You seriously don’t understand that there was a major change in how drug laws were enforced starting the late 60s and early 70s?

    Of course that needs to be understood in the context that there was a major increase in illegal drug activity starting slightly before that.

    Before the period in question, no matter what the laws were or how they were enforced, drug law violations were relatively few and hence not a big public concern. Given their increase and the simple working out of things over time, the War on Drugs seems pretty inevitable, unfortunately. The only way out would’ve been for them to go the way of jaywalking and traffic violations in general, but the problem is that “drugs” were seen as a serious, albeit rare, problem before their increase, while traffic violations, albeit sometimes deadly, were never seen as that type of public concern. I’m afraid there is no way back down the same road.

  49. first, i don’t think the US psyche is ready for open access to real drugs. psychedelic drugs should be controlled by “teachers” like they always have before. Todays “real drugs” Speed, Coke, and Heroin are all concentrations of naturally occurring chemicals, Ephedrine, Coca, and opium. So basically i see the WoD as two or three different issues. Pot, is anywhere around $300 per ounce, but are “highly taxed” tobacco is $5 per ounce. basically if the feds tried to “legalize”(monopolize) w/ the current prices illicit production would have no reason to stop. if it “decriminalized” or some laws are explicitly not enforced the price may actually come down. if pot where just another plant, like flowers, that i could grow and sell for a humble living or second job, i would love to do it, even if i only had a small garden. i also think more realistic prices on drugs drastically changes what it means to be a “junkie”.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.