Richard S. Russell - War on Drugs, like Prohibition, a failure

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War on Drugs, like Prohibition, a failure
by Richard S. Russell

The Capital Times has editorialized that "the crack menace is the most serious drug threat this nation has ever faced."

Well, no. If you want to talk about what drug causes the most damage, it's clearly alcohol, and we've known that since 1776. Tobacco runs a strong second.

However, the most serious drug threat is not any chemical at all -- it's the anti-drug laws themselves.

You'd think we would have learned our lesson during the Prohibition era. Banning alcohol gave us problems 10 times worse than consuming it ever did. By driving the production and distribution of alcohol into the willing hands of the criminal underworld, the U.S. government guaranteed:

  • High prices.
  • Inconsistent quality (including batches of bathtub gin that would occasionally blind or kill their consumers.
  • Scorn and disrespect for the law (as obviously stupid).
  • An increase in other forms of crime as addicts tried to pay for their expensive and illegal habits.
  • A leaky border. Bribery and other forms of corruption.
  • Glutting of the courts and prisons with drinkers who had never done violence to anyone else.
  • Massive growth in the drug-enforcement bureaucracy (which, of course, formed an outspoken constituency for ever sterner measures).
  • A concomitant increase in public spending.
  • Continued erosion of the majority's civil liberties in the name of the Great Experiment's attempts to foil the drug-abusing minority.
  • Abandonment of attempts to educate or rehabilitate those with alcohol habits.

As I said above, we conducted an experiment in a War on Drugs back in the Roaring '20s. The purpose of an experiment is to determine how things work. We should have learned that the "cure" was worse than the "disease."

But, as George Santayana remarked, those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it. The murder rate in 1933, the last year of Prohibition, was the highest on record until 1992. Shouldn't this be telling us something?

What I search for -- in vain, so it seems -- is a politician with the guts to point out that the emperor is naked. The War on Drugs is a bankrupt social policy. But all we get from those panderers to ignorance and superstition -- Clinton and Dole -- is one-upmanship about who's tougher on drugs than the other. They make me sick.

The War on Drugs is ruining a once great nation. Let's follow how we should have handled the war in Vietnam. It's time to declare victory and get out.

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