Drug War

America's Disastrous Drug War Is Finally Unravelling

Voters came out for legalizing marijuana, removing criminal penalties for psychedelic use, and treating drug addiction as a public health concern.


The 2020 election was an important milestone in unraveling America's disastrous war on drugs. Across the country, by overwhelming margins, voters came out for legalizing marijuana, removing criminal penalties for psychedelic use, and treating drug addiction as a public health rather than a criminal concern.

The biggest victory was in Oregon, where voters overwhelmingly approved Measure 110, making it the first state to eliminate the possibility of jail time for possessing small amounts of heroin, cocaine, oxycodone, and every other narcotic. Instead, violators could be hit with at most a $100 fine.

"It's a really bold experiment," says Adrian Moore, vice president of policy at the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason. "Arresting people and locking them up for using drugs is not very effective." The initiative also paved the way for setting up education treatment recovery programs and using the tax revenue from the marijuana market to fund it.

Voters Oregon approved Measure 109, making it the first state to legalize psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration granted psilocybin "breakthrough therapy" status for treatment-resistant depression.

In Washington, D.C., voters opted by a margin of 3 to 1 to make the use, possession, and cultivation of entheogenic plants and fungi, such as psilocybin mushrooms, law enforcers' lowest priority.

"It does not change law in any way. It simply says, 'Look…we, the people, think that the police and the district attorneys should stop arresting and prosecuting people for psychedelic plants. So please do that," says Moore.

Mississippi, Arizona, South Dakota, New Jersey, and Montana all passed initiatives allowing marijuana to be sold for either medical or recreational use.

Moore says that there's a danger that some of the legal structures established by these ballot measures, such as in Arizona, will repeat the mistakes of other states, where regulated cartels dominate.

"It really is designed to give the existing medical marijuana providers control of the market and not let anybody else into the market, which is kind of crazy," says Moore.

But a clear takeaway from the 2020 election is that the American public has had enough of the government locking people in cages for putting mind-altering substances into their own bodies. The tragic war on drugs is finally coming to an end.

Produced, written, and edited by Regan Taylor. Motion graphics by Lex Villena, Isaac Reese, and Ian Keyser.

Music Credits: "Mama—Instrumental Version" by Phototaxis, "Hello 6 am" by Mylar Melodies.

Photo Credits: Credit: Kris Tripplaar/Sipa USA/NewscomCoke; Credit: Ian Simpson Universal Images Group/Newscom; Credit: Allen Eyestone/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Credit: Yuko Saito-Miller/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Credit: ID 98139858© Iurii Stepanov Dreamstime.com, Photo 6922028 © Iakov Filimonov  Dreamstime.com, ID 73714134,© Nattul| Dreamstime.com (edited); Credit: Bruce Bisping/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Credit: Shane T. Mccoy/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Credit: Paul Hennessy/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Credit: Paul Hennessy/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Credit: Paul Hennessy/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Credit: Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Newscom; Credit: Nelvin Cepeda/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Credit: Randy Pench/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Credit: Jim Weber/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Credit: Amy Katz/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Credit: Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Newscom; Credit: Douglas Graham/Roll Call Photos/NewscomFlower

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  1. “opening new possibilities for treating drug addiction as a public health concern.”

    Sorry, this is only going to open up a larger front in the drug war… albeit under a different name.

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m very happy about recent moves towards decriminalization and legalization. However, drug addiction is an individual health concern. Please don’t advocate for socializing the efforts and effects of individuals’ choices/conditions.

    1. Please don’t advocate for socializing the efforts and effects of individuals’ choices/conditions.

      Or encouraging them.

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        1. I think they need to legalize all drugs everywhere simultaneously, and then hand them out for free. All the addicts can thing overdose them simultaneously and we can have a giant bonfire for their bodies and finally be rid of them.

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      2. You always get more of what you subsidize. There is a cost to self-medication and it us only right that it should be paid by the user.

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      3. Why not? How about make all drugs not only legal but free, available in remote drug camps (with free one-way transportation)? The addict population will take care of itself, and not bother the rest of us.

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    2. Still, that model’s been pretty successful, and mostly peaceful, when it came to liquor.

      1. We do not treat alcohol addiction as a public health disease.

        By that I mean we do not force people into treatment under penalty of prison time.

        1. are you sure about that?
          seems like it’s a part of getting out of jail time for DUI convictions.

          1. CE: Can you really not see the difference between arresting someone for endangering the public with DUI and arresting someone simply for using a drug? (Not that I expect much from forcing drunks into therapy they don’t want – but at least with a drunk-driving conviction, drug misuse was actually proven.)

        2. Um, we tried that once. And plenty of Karens and nannies are ready to try it again.

      2. I consider myself pretty open minded when it comes to the drug laws, and drugs in general. That being said, I see NO benefit in allowing decriminalization of the possession of heroine and cocaine. I can only see it making the addiction epidemic only worse.
        I understand the argument that people’s lives are ruined for drug arrests the permanently stain them when it comes to getting jobs, renting or buying homes, going to school etc, but there IS another part of drugs being illegal that this completely overlooks.
        First off,I can speak from personal experience; I had a pretty bad issue with opioids years ago. I developed it when many people who fall more or less in my age group (Gen X); Oxycontin. Thankfully, I decided enough was enough and went into recovery. While I won’t say that I’ve been a complete saint since then, I can honestly say I’ve been free from the addiction and all the terrible things that come with it as a package deal for 13 years.
        With that in mind, I’m pretty confident in believing that decriminalization of hard drugs is going to result in serious unintended consequences. For most addicts, going into recovery was a direct result of being arrested. A huge amount, if not most of people would never have gone into treatment if they hadn’t been arrested for drugs.
        I think that though it’s well intended, this is one of the most misguided decisions made in relation to the current addiction epidemic.
        *( I think that legalizing other hard drugs like cocaine is as well, but I don’t have the same amount of experience with them as I do with opioids so I’ll leave the subject to those who do)
        People see all the negative consequences of the War on drugs, but those who don’t have the personal connection to them, either in regards to themselves or people they’re close with, causes them to view the subject as if the issue all exist in a vacuum. People are arrested and given prison sentences that exceed reason, they want to keep that from happening in the future, and it results in what we’re seeing here.
        The fact of the matter how ever is that the crime of possession and it’s enforcement for a lot of users actually acts as something akin to the bodies immune system being able to combat things that enter or happen to the that without the immune system would kill the body. I’m not using this analogy in reference to society at large needing to be able to fight the addicts to keep them from killing society, I’m taking about it keeping it from killing the addict themselves.
        There’s a term; being “on a run.” This, basically is when a user is consuming large amounts of the drug for long lengths of time (typically days, weeks and if they don’t die first; months). I’m not referring to them using what would be considered in the high side of their normal usage, it’s when they’re using copious amounts. When an addict is on a run, there are 3 ways that their run comes to an end:
        1)they run out of money or for some reason they can’t score it, maybe their dealer is attested or something else keeps them from being able to score.
        2) they’re arrested and unable to get released for a length of time. This is happens to many who are at the point where using is the only priority they have. Many no lost their jobs and quite possibly their homes. As a result, even a relatively low bail amount is beyond their ability to come up with, so they remain in jail until their court date. And lastly:
        3) they have a fatal overdose.

        With the first, it varies from person to person and also as a result of other factors. For street junkies, this tends to be more common in the winter then the summer. In the summer warm months, food and shelter aren’t as major of a priority as it is in the winter months. If it’s money or something that has a chance of being dealt with (buy getting money, usually as a result of crime or other actions people wouldn’t take part in if not for the addiction). If there’s an arrest of a dealer or some other event that just makes the supply dry up, then an addict is more likely to go to detox, to at the least get a “spin-dry* which allows them to taper down so if they can’t get any of the drug, the withdrawal symptoms won’t be as acute.
        With the 2nd; fatal overdose, it usually HAS to be fatal for it to result in them stopping. If they overdose and are brought out by someone giving them narcan or a similar antagonist that causes their bodies to quickly expell the opioid, 90%*of the time as soon as they’re released from the hospital or otherwise are back on the street, they immediately score again ASAP. The narcan causes their receptors to flush it out, which means of they don’t get more quickly, they’re going to be hit with what would be days of withdrawal all at once.

        That leaves arrest. With arrested being taken off the table, all that’s left is the “running out of money, or inability to score,” and fatal overdose. I ask, with those factors what sounds more likely?
        Taking arrest off the table, something that many times is the ONLY way to keep some of these people alive will result in more addicts, and more death. If this was just part of a larger strategy that’s instituted along side of it is SUCH a wrong-headed move, that it leads me to believe that they drafted this bill with either no or very little input from experts in the field of addiction. If they did, then they didn’t listen because I cannot see this being something that they would have suggested or agreed with.
        To me this is very reminiscent of what they did with the laws that made it much more difficult to get someone who was mentally ill committed. That was another move that was likely done with the best of intentions, but had results that we feel to this day in the fact that many people who would have been better served being treated in an institution now being put into prisons because there’s no alternative.
        This just is a really short-sighted move.

        *(in the spirit of transparency; I just pulled this figure out if the air, the point of it is that it’s by far the majority)

        1. You’ve assumed that all drug users are those who use everyday, live on the streets, are penniless, and go on extended runs that end in jail or death. This subset of addicts is a very small minority compared to the rest of functioning addicts.

          For your subset, jail will still be widely available due to the fact that this group is so desperate for drugs, they will commit other crimes while trying to obtain them. Nothing changes with this group except perhaps their 20 sack gets dropped – which is pretty much what’s been going on in most courts anyways.

          The rest of the addicts and recreational users won’t have to be incarcerated and have their records ruined over some stupid meth or opiate problem – they’ll instead get therapy so they can get back to work sober. This isn’t controversial, it’s common sense.

          Good thoughts though, hopefully you don’t go spreading that bullshit you wrote and hold back our species another generation.

          1. 1) I’m not assuming that all users are penniless, I just pointed them out.
            2) where are you getting the information that leads you to believe they’re s very small segment.
            3) the other users that are “functioning” absolutely DO get arrested,
            4) being a “functioning addict is only a temporary state of affairs, if they’re addicts they will DEFINITELY get to point where they no longer are functioning. It’s already baked into being an addict, it’s a natural gradual process. With the exception of the mentally ill, every street addict started out as functioning addicts, street addicts didn’t start out as street-people who started doing drugs while on the street, they were at some point in thev past a contributing member of society, until they’re not.
            5) I don’t know where you think that those that are functioning addicts somehow go into successful treatment at a higher rate that the other addicts, this just isn’t true. Again, the really bad users aren’t that way because they’re somehow predisposed to be less successful in treatment, they’re exactly the same as the addicts that aren’t on the street with the exception of not having the financial resources to stay off the streets. If anything, they’re FAR more likely to go to treatment than the addicts that still have jobs and homes, because like all addicts: most don’t get serious about trying to get clean until they’re at their lowest. The people who still have homes and jobs are not at that point, so they won’t feel as much of a need to get clean.
            6) as I said in my comments: waiting for addicts to commit a crime that is related to getting the drugs while making it so possession isn’t, will only result in the amount of other crimes; larceny, robbery, assault, breaking and entering, etc. To rise significantly. You said something about the “functioning addicts’ lives being ruined for possession of meth. If they’re addicted to meth their lives are already ruined, they’ve just yet to get to the inevitable point where they realize it yet. But even if what you said was true, they’re are many programs through the “drug courts” that have been adopted by many criminal courts that give them an opportunity to have that arrest expunged if they follow the requirements put forth to them from the judges. If those people really are more likely to go into treatment themselves (but this doesn’t change the fact that they just aren’t), then this will be they’re opportunity. If they don’t, then they’re more then likely going to just get progressively worse, and end up just like the street addicts, it just hasn’t happened yet for them.

        2. So let’s be clear here. Your argument is

          1. The consequences of drugs are so life-destroying for serious addicts that is it worthwhile to destroy the lives of casual users in order to discourage of the use of drugs.
          2. The consequences of drugs are so minor that we need to inflict additional penalties in order to discourage of the use of drugs.

          It does not really seem you can have it both ways. Either drugs are bad for you, in which case we do not need the law to inflict additional harm, or drugs are not bad for you, in which case the law is senseless.

          You notice that people manage to quit alcohol, despite the possession of alcohol being lawful in the US.

          1. I don’t know how you boiled what I wrote to those 2 things, because that wasn’t my point at all. Even if it had been my point, those 2 things absolutely can be true at the same time, just not fit the same person. For some people the first may be true, for others the second. This is the problem with three environment of discourse lately, that there’s an assumption that there’s only 2 truths: white or black, right or wrong. That isn’t how it works in a real world setting.

            As for the idea that these people will have their lives ruined for a possession charge. Firstly, these are not innocent babes in the woods that are completely without agency and are being oppressed by the court system. For the VAST majority of those people either they’re usually delt with kid gloves if they don’t have any priors, so the idea that they get arrested only once and it tone they’re lives isn’t true. Typically for a first time offender they’re given a “without a finding” by the judge and put on probation where if they do what they’re supposed to, the case will be dismissed after completing their probation.
            And even if they do have priors, most of the criminal courts throughout them country have “drug courts,” that will give them an opportunity to have the arrest expunged if they successfully complete the program.
            The argument that people’s lives are ruined over a single possession charge just isn’t true anymore, and hasn’t really been for a decade now.
            Some argue that not EVERY court has these options. True, but most do, and we don’tv repeal laws simply because a few people don’t have the same story as the majority do. Laws that are tailored around the lowest common denominator (in this case the smaller group who may not have access to drug courts) are an absolutely absurd concept to base a legal system on.

          2. So no, you’re not clear on my point.

        3. I often ask the question of prohibitionists if they need a law tp prevent them from engaging with the substance in question. Invariably they say no, but others do.

          We should make a law where the substances you prefer are illegal, but only for T. White (and others like you). That way, those of us who don’t want to engage are not indisposed and you get the heavy heel of police on your neck to help you be the man you want to be.


          1. That is an baffling comment, as in I can’t figure out exactly what your point is, but the small part I can isn’t very good.
            “We should make a law where the substances you prefer are illegal, but only for me snag others like me?”
            What the hell does that mean?
            And what exactly don’t you want to”engage”?
            You should try again, I think you’re trying to make a slam dunk, but it’s nonsense

    3. A big part of the impetus behind the drug war at this point is the drug rehab industry. They need court ordered “customers”. And a lot of it is a racket. Shifting from criminal enforcement to forced treatment is probably a little better, but not much.
      To really end the drug war you need to stop these cozy relationships between government and the rehab industry and figure out how to make drug trafficking unprofitable for criminal organizations, which is where most of the violence and real harm comes from. Which probably means making the drugs available to people that want them at low prices.

      1. Yes indeed. These are baby steps, but we need baby steps to win the war.

        Presidential BS aside, it was a pretty good election night.

      2. A big part of the impetus behind the drug war at this point is the drug rehab industry.


        In general, arguments of the form that “society is undertaking some vast project only at the behest of some industry” are unsupported — whether the industry is private prisons, arms manufacturers, auto companies, or anything else.

        That the microscopic drug-rehab industry is driving drug laws seems particularly foolish. Even ignoring the ant-riding-the-elephant discrepancies in scale, it is not at all clear the drug-rehab industry benefits from drug laws.

        A big part of the impetus — effectively the only part — behind the drug war at this point is people frightened by the actual and imaginary harms of drugs and thinking, “Something must be done, this is something, therefore we must do it.”

      3. Not sure what they cozy relationship that rehab has with the government. I understand that point about people going from court into rehab, but what’s the government getting from the rehab?
        Even if this is true, it’s certainly isn’t the major factor in the drug epidemic, drug addiction is the major factor.
        As for making it unprofitable for drug trafficking; this can only be a thought experiment, because thats just something that can’t be done. Thrust 3a reason why drug cartels make so much money; a lot of people want to buy a lot of drugs, and they can supply them for next to nothing, and make hundreds of millions of dollars for doing it. I don’t know how you change that.
        There seems to only be 2 ways to make drug trafficking and manufacturing unprofitable: 1) somehow have a situation where nobody wants to buy drugs. Good luck with that.
        2) just legalize everything. Legal weed is making it so that’s less profitable for them, at least in the US. I don’t see how doing that with hard drugs will benefit anyone.

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  2. The war on drugs is canoeing at best.

      1. Some way the kids are talking these days? Or a typo?

  3. done fine my whole life w/o paying taxes on my green, thankyouverymuch

    1. Same here. But it’s nice to be able to drive with it in your vehicle and not have to worry about getting stopped and having your life fucked up.

      1. Increased DUI enforcement for weed is a bit of a concern. Though it doesn’t seem to have become much of an issue so far.

      2. Unless you live within 100 miles of the Mexican border and so are constantly under threat of warrantless search. Or live on, say, Arivaca where it’s impossible to leave town without going through a BP checkpoint.

        Feds will still bang you up for possession, no problem.

      3. lucky for moi Dallas County won’t even look sideways at you until you’re carrying ozs.

  4. But a clear takeaway from the 2020 election is that the American public has had enough of the government locking people in cages for putting mind-altering substances into their own bodies. The tragic war on drugs is finally coming to an end.

    And two chief advocates for that war have just received promotions.

    1. Biden and Harris are on record supporting cannabis decriminalization.

      1. Biden and Harris are on record supporting locking even more people up. Biden’s got a 40 year history of supporting the drug war and Harris was a prosecutor.

        But you go ahead and believe those leopard’s spots have changed.

      2. except not when they were actually in power to do so before

      3. Their platform plank modeled after the LP sez: “Democrats will decriminalize marijuana use and reschedule it through executive action on the federal level. ” God’s Own Prohibitionists preferred to again spit on this Libertarian solution the way they squealed, kicked whined and spat at Roe v Wade–which was copied from our platform. That indicates a serious learning disability.

  5. Narcs will have to get real jobs.

    1. Nah, plenty of new outlawed substances and behaviors to inform on.

  6. As this is being published, we have these enormous paramilitary behemoths in Mexico, the Cartels, who kill thousands and cause millions to live in fear. Nothing wrong with these little ballot initiatives, but they seem to have little relation to the Cartels, and in no way signal the end of the War on Drugs.

    1. The cartels are powerful because of the money. The money exists because of prohibition.

      It’s why there are no more liquor cartels.

      1. and no more gangland warfare by rival rum runners. they just compete in TV and magazine ads.

        1. So, same ethics?

      2. If cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines were legalized in the entire Country, we could test your theory. But as long as it is not the case, the closing sentence of this article, ” The tragic war on drugs is finally coming to an end” is nonsense.

      3. In fact it was glucose corn sugar and yeast cartels that bought the votes for prohibition. Indicting them for conspiracy enabled the Dems to copy the Liberal Party repeal plank and win.

  7. Let them buy any drugs they want – it is a personal choice. Let some of them die – the result sometimes of a personal choice. Don’t expect me to be sorry for them.

      1. Unless you count taxes as “asking”.

  8. True nobody wants a war, and paramilitary style policing doesn’t work. Make any drug legal and over the counter if you want. That is not going to stop crime though, and in no way reversing the militarization of civilian police. Crime will continue because there will always be black markets and people willing to commit murder to protect them. It will continue because drug users will eventually have to steal to maintain their habit. You’re still going to need policing of some kind.

    1. Like the black market in alcohol?

    2. Ending alcohol prohibition set organized crime back 40 years, until the Drug War started.

      1. The drug war started in 1837, when China expelled Delano and the British opium peddlers. It only resulted in about 25 million deaths, thanks to the Quing “tough love” policy of banning local flower gardens so that the only alternative was foreign suppliers.

    3. So this Revelation that “in the future drug users will eventually have to steal” straight-up mystical or simply an exercise in hillbilly pseudoscientific extrapolation? I’m asking for a friend who is struggling with a Midol problem.

  9. No worries, the War on Human Trafficking is already geared up to take its place, and keep the Law Enforcement/Prison/Industrial complex going.

  10. The biggest victory was in Oregon, where voters overwhelmingly approved Measure 110, making it the first state to eliminate the possibility of jail time for possessing small amounts of heroin, cocaine, oxycodone, and every other narcotic. Instead, violators could be hit with at most a $100 fine.

    “It’s a really bold experiment,” says Adrian Moore.

    But we have been told, by truly enlightened people (like those in Oregon), that allowing states to set their own political and social agenda, is backwards and racist and slavist. The only proper form of governance, for now, is a monolithic national system, with a Strong Leader elected by popular vote. How can the righteous people of Oregon tolerate this deviation from the national agenda?

    1. Idk but maybe they could burn the rest of it to the ground to make their point more credible.

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    1. The war on fun is good reading at “Prohibition and The Crash,” touch-free on Amazon Kindle.

  12. Funny contradiction in the first paragraph ….. highly addictive drugs are becoming legal. Hoooray! Now, drug addiction can destroy even more lives BUT addiction will be considered a public health crisis so all is well. LOL

    1. The advocates remind us that addiction is not illegal. A fine point but then they demand housing, health care, drugs, money, food and walking around $ for the afflicted. Of course!! I work for you and your not illegal addiction.

      Your addiction is yours to enjoy and not mine to support.

      1. “They” are not Libertarians. Prohibition increased CPUSA membership as in “Republican Crashes increase communism” https://tinyurl.com/y437rf5r

    2. Non addictive LSD, mescalin, hemp, psilocyn, tryptamines and MMDA were all legal before ignorant hillbillies with guns destroyed individual rights. Now look how SURPRISED they act that foreign opiates, thanks to them, are killing people as in Quing Dynasty China.

  13. MJ is fine but cocaine and heroine? Out of your minds.

    people should look back at the 70’s when addiction was out of control. Sure you can treat this as individual health concerns, but I guarantee demand will far exceed supply, and we’ll be asking ourselves the same questions that people did 50 years ago.

    1. Oh look! A superstitious sockpuppet lecturing us on pharmacology while prognosticating future events–such as the GOP listening, shooting kids, and getting bounced out of office. Listen up!

  14. “”It does not change law in any way. It simply says, ‘Look…we, the people, think that the police and the district attorneys should stop arresting and prosecuting people for psychedelic plants.”

    “We think”
    No, they didn’t think. They should either leave it like it was , or get rid of those laws altogether. Instead, they took half-way measures and told everyone, “look what we did!”

    1. Literary Review and other periodicals allowed people to voice their opinions when Hoover was having people murdered over beer. But before 1931 there were no Liberal Party candidates to vote for. Hand-wringing expresses sentiment, but libertarian spoiler votes that toss looter politicians out into the real world get the job done!

  15. Living in a city where illegal drug use is rampant we enjoy more deaths/mo due to fetanyl od’s than covid. And of course the soupcon of the physical debris of having junkies shitting on the sidewalk and at YOUR front door. Legalizing and supporting (safe injection sites) will only make this problem get better and better.

    I am junkie, gimme.

    1. The likes of you banned safe LSD, hemp, tryptamines and mescalin. So listening to pants-wetting and squalling over the drugs that replaced them thanks to pseudoscience, televangelism and prohibition is starting to get a little old. Hearing you whine about the Messiah losing an election thanks to coercive policies will be a treat by comparison.

  16. Reason should research the dissenting view in the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court case “Terry v. Ohio” written by Justice Douglas. It changed the meaning and clearly violated the wording of the 4th Amendment – without the legally required constitutional amendment process.

    Justice Douglas explicitly warned that taking this constitutional authority away from judges (without amendment) and transferring power to the Executive Branch police officers/prosecutors was taking a long step down the road to “totalitarianism” in America. In 2001, these 1960’s violations helped create the Patriot Act abuses and blacklisting innocent Americans for almost 20 years now.

    Today America is the world’s largest jailer. The $1.5+ trillion in taxpayer dollars in our so-called “War on Drugs” has produced MORE drugs not less. The so-called War on Drugs destroyed our Bill of Rights as a “restraint” on government authority. Even if started with good intentions, it’s not working.

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  17. Libertarian spoiler votes cost the Dems the 2016 election. They promptly ditched their previous shoot-first prohibitionism and (as in 1932) had a chance at winning an election. God’s Own Prohibitionists, unfortunately, would rather not have electricity than give up thrill of sending narcs in to murder unarmed hippies, women and especially brown people. Think of this election as a learning experience on the law-changing clout of Libertarian spoiler votes.

  18. Reparations are in order for those who were violated and prohibitionists need to face the equivalent of the Nuremberg trials

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