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May 12, 2007 - Oroville Mercury-Register (CA)

OpEd: The Un-Winnable War

By David White, Oroville's outspoken advocate of good public policy.

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Persons and pundits both local and national are criticizing the war in Iraq as un-winnable and demanding a change in policy while, sadly, they seem indifferent to the glaring failure of another war which has been pursued for over 40 years, cost more money, destroyed more lives, killed more citizens and generated more anguish than any conflict since World War II; the so called 'War On Drugs.'

It is our government's policies rather than the substances involved which are more responsible for the ongoing deaths, defilement, misery and despair which permeate our society. Incarceration, stigmatization, surreptitious spying, asset forfeiture, poisoning our environment, turning friends and family members into traitors and squealers.

Drug free zones, zero tolerance policies, dope sniffing dogs, seemingly no idea too fanciful, frivolous or absurd that it is refused its ignoble place in this pathetic pursuit of the unattainable.

Each of us should ask ourselves, after 40 years of stricter laws, tougher enforcement and harsher punishments is the problem now better or worse? Is it easier or more difficult now to obtain illicit drugs if one is so inclined?

Our drug laws are prohibitionist in nature and prohibitionist laws do NOT work for they seek to overcome two obstacles which cannot be overcome; the law of supply and demand, and the rule of risk and reward.

As long as there is demand for a product or service there will always be someone willing to provide it. Our laws attack the supply side of this equation with a predictably futile result.

For despite the ever increasing amounts of illegal drugs confiscated there ALWAYS remains adequate supply available to fulfill the demand and there ALWAYS will be. We have jammed our prisons with criminals who sell and deal in these drugs and yet there are always more to take their place for the truth is that the only effect of this monumental enforcement effort is to raise the price of these substances and once the price is high enough there will ALWAYS be someone willing to take the risk.

Acknowledging that the drug problem is not going to go away, our focus should be on policies which improve rather than exacerbate the situation. It is imperative the monetary profit be removed and as the only thing making these substances valuable is their illegality they should be at a minimum de-criminalized.

The benefits from these changes would be immediate and remarkable. Police officers could return to performing tasks of benefit to the public rather than play catch me if you can with some Al Capone wannabe. Prosecutors and judges would have the time to pursue matters which now must be dismissed due to the burden of prosecuting the deluge of drug offenses. Our prison system would have the space to house the dangerous individuals who need and deserve to be located there.

The resources now being wasted on these functions could be redirected toward providing serious public education concerning the dangers of these drugs and providing the facilities for the rehabilitation of those seeking such. Addicts could be provided a location to use their drugs allowing our parks to again be used as playgrounds rather than 'shooting galleries.' The spread of diseases associated with drug use could be reduced along with the accompanying cost of medical treatment.

As with any dramatic change there would be winners and losers.

The losers would include all those who are now profiting from the status quo, street gangs, smugglers and criminal organizations currently gorging themselves on the tremendous untaxed revenue they are receiving as well as law enforcement agencies receiving funding grants and seizing cash from drug raids to continue this enforcement farce.

Winners would be all of us in the public suffering personally or financially as a result of this misguided effort.

But those who find my proposals appalling need not fear them being adopted as long as we have Republicans and Democrats making the laws; political harlots concerned only with what makes good politics rather than good policy.

These are the 'generals' running the 'war' who insist that doing more of what we have done for 40 years past will somehow produce different results in the future.

Obstinate and recalcitrant fools willing to fight to the last drop of someone else's blood and the last dime of someone else's money rather than adopt someone else's suggestions. They are supported by persons who have exchanged their humanity for moral righteousness and their compassion for moral superiority. They prefer policies which make them feel good rather than policies which would accomplish good.

Compared to our chances of winning the current 'war on drugs,' succeeding in Iraq looks like a sure thing.

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