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March 4, 2005 - The National Post (Canada)

Why The War On Drugs Can Never Be Won

By Jonathan Kay, National Post

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

People read into the news what they want. When a terrorist's bomb goes off in Baghdad, the dove says: "This shows the Americans don't belong there." The hawk replies: "This is the sort of evil they came to extinguish."

So it is with drugs. Yesterday, four police officers were killed by a pot thug in Alberta. For those who still believe the war on drugs can be won, it will be but one more reason to pound the chest and call for zero tolerance. But common sense dictates otherwise: These four men were not victims of drugs. They were victims of the war on drugs.

This is not the best time to make this point. When men in uniform -- men with wives and children and mortgages -- are gunned down by criminals, our first human impulse is not to question the mission of the fallen. But we must: There are many good reasons to put one's life on the line -- soldiers, firemen and even taxis drivers do it all the time in a day's work. But the campaign against reefer, that is not one of them.

The number of people who died yesterday trying to fight the marijuana trade exceeds -- by four -- the total number of people known to medical science to have died from a marijuana overdose, ever. Compare this to alcohol, an addictive substance that kills a million people every year around the world, but which is advertised on television; or tobacco, which kills four times as many as booze, and which is sold at gas stations and pharmacies.

The mere fact of this hypocrisy should not astound us: Society is hypocritical in innumerable ways. But not all hypocrisies cost lives.

And there is no more deadly hypocrisy than the one that makes murderous outlaws out of those whose only crime is to grow and sell a non-addictive, relatively harmless substance that is casually consumed by millions of ordinary, middle-class Canadians.

Drugs are not special. They are like rhino horns or guns or sex. As with all these things, the mere fact of their illegality excludes legitimate merchants -- the very same men with wives and children and mortgages -- and draws in brutes with nothing to lose.

These men don't buy guns to shoot cops. They buy guns to threaten their own: Like game poachers and pimps, drug runners can't go to the police when a dispute breaks out. This is something gun-loathing Canadians may want to consider when they think about the issue: Make something illegal, and you've automatically created a standing army of armed criminals.

In many American cities, disputes among drug dealers now account for a majority of homicides. Cop killings are far more rare, but are not unheard of. Young men will do a lot of bad things when they're staring at jail time. Really bad things: Last month, methamphetamine runners in Crothersville, Indiana, allegedly abducted and killed a 10-year-old girl whose crime was to wander by their meth lab.

I have built a large part of my career urging Canada to jump on board with one U.S. campaign or another -- the war in Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq. But I will make an exception for the war on drugs. It is unwinnable, and it is deadly, and it is senseless.

Compared to the United States, we are half-hearted participants in the war on drugs. Unlike the Americans, we do not compromise the war for hearts and minds in Afghanistan by spraying poison on Afghan crops. We do not send nuns to their death in a bid to clear South America's skies of drug runners.

We do not send armies of black men to jail for the crime of selling white men what they want to buy. To our great credit, we wage the war on drugs half-heartedly, armed with the secret knowledge that it is a fraud -- that drugs are a health problem to be treated in clinics, not a crime problem to be treated by SWAT teams.

It is time to act on that knowledge. Even many libertarians blink at the thought of legalizing the hardcore addictive poisons -- meth, cocaine, heroin. But we do not have to go that far to prove our sanity. For now, marijuana would be enough.

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