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March 13, 2006 - Colorado Springs Gazette (CO)

Editorial: Drug War's Futility, Failure

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Border security seems to be in the news often these days. The focus usually is on the people coming into this country from Mexico and Central America. Little media attention is paid to drug-smuggling operations, so little attention is paid by the American people to a failed border policy that has been going on for decades -- border skirmishes in the drug war.

Since January, nearly 50 people have been killed in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Last Tuesday, a state police chief was killed and two other officers wounded when their car was fired on by well-armed assailants.

The ambush-style shootings are being blamed on drug lords battling over smuggling routes into the United States. These latest victims can be added to the rising costs of an American drug control policy that does little to keep drugs off the streets in U.S. cities, while racking up huge bills.

Drug warriors in this country like to trumpet their successes in the media, posing with large caches of drugs and weapons they've taken from smugglers and dealers. And for that dangerous work they are to be lauded.

But the larger picture shows that for all the foot soldiers' risky work, the supply of available drugs seems little changed. Don't blame that on the folks on the front lines; the fault lies further up the chain of command and is the result of a faulty premise.

The drug war is based on the idea that if the government wishes something to go away, it can simply outlaw it. Apparently those in charge of the nation's drug policy were absent from history class the day Prohibition was covered.

It didn't work in the 1920s and it's not working now, because it ignores one of the basic tenets of freedom: so long as the rights of others are not harmed, what one does with one's own body is not the business of government.

An argument can be made that by spending, say, the rent money on drugs, parents expose their children to the possibility of homelessness and a host of other woes. That's true, but it's a societal problem rather than a legal one. And making drugs illegal hasn't kept people from using them.

Defenders of the drug war will point to the Nuevo Laredo victims and ask if their rights were not violated by drug lords. Of course they were, but that's a result of drug prohibition, not drug use.

Drug lords are willing to kill to protect their business because of the huge profits involved in the drug trade. Those profits are in direct correlation to the risk involved. That's basic economics.

In the drug trade, the risk comes from dealers attempting to monopolize the market and government officials trying to close the market. In the absence of prohibition, the threat of arrest would be eliminated and danger from other dealers would be reduced because the profits would be smaller.

In a free society, people should be free to make choices with little or no interference from government. Many, if not most, Americans don't see a need for government to meddle in their lives. After all, most of us are upstanding citizens, right?

Ah, but those other folks; they need the nanny government to look out for them and limit their choices.

Actually, very few of them need someone else to look out for their best interests. And in even fewer cases would the government be the proper custodian. Now might not be the time to legalize drugs, but it's certainly the time to honestly evaluate our current policy, because it's not working.

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