1. WM. F. BUCKLEY JR.
Last summer WFB was asked by the New York Bar Association to
make a statement to the panel of lawyers considering the
drug question. He made the following statement:
We are speaking of a plague that consumes an estimated $75 billion per year of public money, exacts an estimated $70 billion a year from consumers, is responsible for nearly 50 per cent of the million Americans who are today in jail, occupies an estimated 50 per cent of the trial time of our judiciary, and takes the time of 400,000 policemen–yet a plague for which no cure is at hand, nor in prospect.
Perhaps you, ladies and gentlemen of the Bar, will understand it if I chronicle my own itinerary on the subject of drugs and public policy. When I ran for mayor of New York, the political race was jocular, but the thought given to municipal problems was entirely serious, and in my paper on drugs and in my post-election book I advocated their continued embargo, but on unusual grounds. I had read–and I think the evidence continues to affirm it–that drug-taking is a gregarious activity. What this means, I said, is that an addict is in pursuit of company and therefore attempts to entice others to share with him his habit. Under the circumstances, I said, it can reasonably be held that drug-taking is a contagious disease and, accordingly, subject to the conventional restrictions employed to shield the innocent from Typhoid Mary. Some sport was made of my position by libertarians, including Professor Milton Friedman, who asked whether the police might legitimately be summoned!
if it were established that keeping company with me was a contagious activity.
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I recall all of this in search of philosophical perspective. Back in 1965 I sought to pay conventional deference to libertarian presumptions against outlawing any activity potentially harmful only to the person who engages in that activity. I cited John Stuart Mill and, while at it, opined that there was no warrant for requiring motorcyclists to wear a helmet. I was seeking, and I thought I had found, a reason to override the presumption against intercession by the state.
About ten years later, I deferred to a different allegiance, this one not the presumptive opposition to state intervention, but a different order of priorities. A conservative should evaluate the practicality of a legal constriction, as for instance in those states whose statute books continue to outlaw sodomy, which interdiction is unenforceable, making the law nothing more than print-on-paper. I came to the conclusion that the so-called war against drugs was not working, that it would not work absent a change in the structure of the civil rights to which we are accustomed and to which we cling as a valuable part of our patrimony. And that therefore if that war against drugs is not working, we should look into what effects the war has, a canvass of the casualties consequent on its failure to work. That consideration encouraged me to weigh utilitarian principles: the Benthamite calculus of pain and pleasure introduced by the illegalization of drugs.
A year or so ago I thought to calculate a ratio, however roughly arrived at, toward the elaboration of which I would need to place a dollar figure on deprivations that do not lend themselves to quantification. Yet the law, lacking any other recourse, every day countenances such quantifications, as when asking a jury to put a dollar figure on the damage done by the loss of a plaintiff’s right arm, amputated by defective machinery at the factory. My enterprise became allegorical in character–I couldn’t do the arithmetic–but the model, I think, proves useful in sharpening perspectives.
Professor Steven Duke of Yale Law School, in his valuable book, AMERICA’S LONGEST WAR: RETHINKING OUR TRAGIC CRUSADE AGAINST DRUGS, and scholarly essay, “Drug Prohibition: An Unnatural Disaster,” reminds us that it isn’t the use of illegal drugs that we have any business complaining about, it is the abuse of such drugs. It is acknowledged that tens of millions of Americans (I have seen the figure 85 million) have at one time or another consumed, or exposed themselves to, an illegal drug. But the estimate authorized by the federal agency charged with such explorations is that there are not more than 1 million regular cocaine users, defined as those who have used the drug at least once in the preceding week. There are (again, an informed estimate) 5 million Americans who regularly use marijuana; and again, an estimated 70 million who once upon a time, or even twice upon a time, inhaled marijuana. From the above we reasonably deduce that Americans who abuse a drug, here defi!
ned as Americans who become addicted to it or even habituated to it, are a very small percentage of those who have experimented with a drug, or who continue to use a drug without any observable distraction in their lives or careers. About such users one might say that they are the equivalent of those Americans who drink liquor but do not become alcoholics, or those Americans who smoke cigarettes but do not suffer a shortened lifespan as a result.
Curiosity naturally flows to ask, next, How many users of illegal drugs in fact die from the use of them? The answer is complicated in part because marijuana finds itself lumped together with cocaine and heroin, and nobody has ever been found dead from marijuana. The question of deaths from cocaine is complicated by the factor of impurity. It would not be useful to draw any conclusions about alcohol consumption, for instance, by observing that, in 1931, one thousand Americans died from alcohol consumption if it happened that half of those deaths, or more than half, were the result of drinking alcohol with toxic ingredients extrinsic to the drug as conventionally used. When alcohol was illegal, the consumer could never know whether he had been given relatively harmless alcohol to drink–such alcoholic beverages as we find today in the liquor store–or whether the bootlegger had come up with paralyzing rotgut. By the same token, purchasers of illegal cocaine and heroin cann!
ot know whether they are consuming a drug that would qualify for regulated consumption after clinical analysis.
But we do know this, and I approach the nexus of my inquiry, which is that more people die every year as a result of the war against drugs than die from what we call, generically, overdosing. These fatalities include, perhaps most prominently, drug merchants who compete for commercial territory, but include also people who are robbed and killed by those desperate for money to buy the drug to which they have become addicted.
This is perhaps the moment to note that the pharmaceutical cost of cocaine and heroin is approximately 2 per cent of the street price of those drugs. Since a cocaine addict can spend as much as $1,000 per week to sustain his habit, he would need to come up with that $1,000. The approximate fencing cost of stolen goods is 80 per cent, so that to come up with $1,000 can require stealing $5,000 worth of jewels, cars, whatever. We can see that at free-market rates, $20 per week would provide the addict with the cocaine which, in this wartime drug situation, requires of him $1,000.
My mind turned, then, to auxiliary expenses–auxiliary pains, if you wish. The crime rate, whatever one made of its modest curtsy last year toward diminution, continues its secular rise. Serious crime is 480 per cent higher than in 1965. The correlation is not absolute, but it is suggestive: crime is reduced by the number of available enforcers of law and order, namely policemen. The heralded new crime legislation, passed last year and acclaimed by President Clinton, provides for 100,000 extra policemen, even if only for a limited amount of time. But 400,000 policemen would be freed to pursue criminals engaged in activity other than the sale and distribution of drugs if such sale and distribution, at a price at which there was no profit, were to be done by, say, a federal drugstore.
So then we attempt to put a value on the goods stolen by addicts. The figure arrived at by Professor Duke is $10 billion. But we need to add to this pain of stolen property, surely, the extra-material pain suffered by victims of robbers. If someone breaks into your house at night, perhaps holding you at gunpoint while taking your money and your jewelry and whatever, it is reasonable to assign a higher “cost” to the episode than the commercial value of the stolen money and jewelry. If we were modest, we might reasonably, however arbitrarily, put at $1,000 the “value” of the victim’s pain. But then the hurt, the psychological trauma, might be evaluated by a jury at ten times, or one hundred times, that sum.
But we must consider other factors, not readily quantifiable, but no less tangible. Fifty years ago, to walk at night across Central Park was no more adventurous than to walk down Fifth Avenue. But walking across the park is no longer done, save by the kind of people who climb the Matterhorn. Is it fair to put a value on a lost amenity? If the Metropolitan Museum were to close, mightn’t we, without fear of distortion, judge that we had been deprived of something valuable? What value might we assign to confidence that, at night, one can sleep without fear of intrusion by criminals seeking money or goods exchangeable for drugs?
Pursuing utilitarian analysis, we ask: What are the relative costs, on the one hand, of medical and psychological treatment for addicts and, on the other, incarceration for drug offenses? It transpires that treatment is seven times more cost-effective. By this is meant that one dollar spent on the treatment of an addict reduces the probability of continued addiction seven times more than one dollar spent on incarceration. Looked at another way: Treatment is not now available for almost half of those who would benefit from it. Yet we are willing to build more and more jails in which to isolate drug users even though at one-seventh the cost of building and maintaining jail space and pursuing, detaining, and prosecuting the drug user, we could subsidize commensurately effective medical care and psychological treatment.
I have spared you, even as I spared myself, an arithmetical consummation of my inquiry, but the data here cited instruct us that the cost of the drug war is many times more painful, in all its manifestations, than would be the licensing of drugs combined with intensive education of non-users and intensive education designed to warn those who experiment with drugs. We have seen a substantial reduction in the use of tobacco over the last thirty years, and this is not because tobacco became illegal but because a sentient community began, in substantial numbers, to apprehend the high cost of tobacco to human health, even as, we can assume, a growing number of Americans desist from practicing unsafe sex and using polluted needles in this age of AIDS. If 80 million Americans can experiment with drugs and resist addiction using information publicly available, we can reasonably hope that approximately the same number would resist the temptation to purchase such drugs even if they!
were available at a federal drugstore at the mere cost of production.
And added to the above is the point of civil justice. Those who suffer from the abuse of drugs have themselves to blame for it. This does not mean that society is absolved from active concern for their plight. It does mean that their plight is subordinate to the plight of those citizens who do not experiment with drugs but whose life, liberty, and property are substantially affected by the illegalization of the drugs sought after by the minority.
I have not spoken of the cost to our society of the astonishing legal weapons available now to policemen and prosecutors; of the penalty of forfeiture of one’s home and property for violation of laws which, though designed to advance the war against drugs, could legally be used–I am told by learned counsel–as penalties for the neglect of one’s pets. I leave it at this, that it is outrageous to live in a society whose laws tolerate sending young people to life in prison because they grew, or distributed, a dozen ounces of marijuana. I would hope that the good offices of your vital profession would mobilize at least to protest such excesses of wartime zeal, the legal equivalent of a My Lai massacre. And perhaps proceed to recommend the legalization of the sale of most drugs, except to minors.
2. ETHAN A. NADELMANN
We turned to Mr. Nadelmann to pursue the inquiry. Formerly
in the Political Science Department at Princeton, he is now
the director of the Lindesmith Center, a drug-policy
research institute in New York City. He is the author of
COPS ACROSS BORDERS: THE INTERNATIONALIZATION OF U.S.
CRIMINAL LAW ENFORCEMENT.
The essayists assembled here do not agree exactly on which aspect of the war on drugs is most disgraceful, or on which alternative to our current policies is most desirable, but we do agree, as Mr. Buckley expected, on the following: The “war on drugs” has failed to accomplish its stated objectives, and it cannot succeed so long as we remain a free society, bound by our Constitution. Our prohibitionist approach to drug control is responsible for most of the ills commonly associated with America’s “drug problem.” And some measure of legal availability and regulation is essential if we are to reduce significantly the negative consequences of both drug use and our drug-control policies.
Proponents of the war on drugs focus on one apparent success: The substantial decline during the 1980s in the number of Americans who consumed marijuana and cocaine. Yet that decline began well before the Federal Government intensified its “war on drugs” in 1986, and it succeeded principally in reducing illicit drug use among middle-class Americans, who were least likely to develop drug-related problems.
Far more significant were the dramatic increases in drug- and prohibition-related disease, death, and crime. Crack cocaine –as much a creature of prohibition as 180-proof moonshine during alcohol prohibition–became the drug of choice in most inner cities. AIDS spread rapidly among injecting drug addicts, their lovers, and their children, while government policies restricted the availability of clean syringes that might have stemmed the epidemic. And prohibition-related violence reached unprecedented levels as a new generation of Al Capones competed for turf, killing not just one another but innocent bystanders, witnesses, and law-enforcement officials.
There are several basic truths about drugs and drug policy which a growing number of Americans have come to acknowledge.
1. Most people can use most drugs without doing much harm to themselves or anyone else, as Mr. Buckley reminds us, citing Professor Duke. Only a tiny percentage of the 70 million Americans who have tried marijuana have gone on to have problems with that or any other drug. The same is true of the tens of millions of Americans who have used cocaine or hallucinogens. Most of those who did have a problem at one time or another don’t any more. That a few million Americans have serious problems with illicit drugs today is an issue meriting responsible national attention, but it is no reason to demonize those drugs and the people who use them.
We’re unlikely to evolve toward a more effective and humane drug policy unless we begin to change the ways we think about drugs and drug control.
Perspective can be had from what is truly the most pervasive drug scandal in the United States: the epidemic of undertreatment of pain. “Addiction” to (i.e., dependence on) opiates among the terminally ill is the appropriate course of medical treatment. The only reason for the failure to prescribe adequate doses of pain-relieving opiates is the “opiaphobia” that causes doctors to ignore the medical evidence, nurses to turn away from their patients’ cries of pain, and some patients themselves to elect to suffer debilitating and demoralizing pain rather than submit to a proper dose of drugs.
The tendency to put anti-drug ideology ahead of compassionate treatment of pain is apparent in another area. Thousands of Americans now smoke marijuana for purely medical reasons: among others, to ease the nausea of chemotherapy; to reduce the pain of multiple sclerosis; to alleviate the symptoms of glaucoma; to improve appetite dangerously reduced from AIDS. They use it as an effective medicine, yet they are technically regarded as criminals, and every year many are jailed. Although more than 75 per cent of Americans believe that marijuana should be available legally for medical purposes, the Federal Government refuses to legalize access or even to sponsor research.
2. Drugs are here to stay. The time has come to abandon the concept of a “drug-free society.” We need to focus on learning to live with drugs in such a way that they do the least possible harm. So far as I can ascertain, the societies that have proved most successful in minimizing drug-related harm aren’t those that have sought to banish drugs, but those that have figured out how to control and manage drug use through community discipline, including the establishment of powerful social norms. That is precisely the challenge now confronting American society regarding alcohol: How do we live with a very powerful and dangerous drug–more powerful and dangerous than many illicit drugs–that, we have learned, cannot be effectively prohibited?
Virtually all Americans have used some psychoactive substance, whether caffeine or nicotine or marijuana. In many cases, the use of cocaine and heroin represents a form of self- medication against physical and emotional pain among people who do not have access to psychotherapy or Prozac. The market in illicit drugs is as great as it is in the inner cities because palliatives for pain and depression are harder to come by and because there are fewer economic opportunities that can compete with the profits of violating prohibition.
3. Prohibition is no way to run a drug policy. We learned that with alcohol during the first third of this century and we’re probably wise enough as a society not to try to repeat the mistake with nicotine. Prohibitions for kids make sense. It’s reasonable to prohibit drug-related misbehavior that endangers others, such as driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, or smoking in enclosed spaces. But whatever its benefits in deterring some Americans from becoming drug abusers, America’s indiscriminate drug prohibition is responsible for too much crime, disease, and death to qualify as sensible policy.
4. There is a wide range of choice in drug-policy options between the free-market approach favored by Milton Friedman and Thomas Szasz, and the zero-tolerance approach of William Bennett. These options fall under the concept of harm reduction. That concept holds that drug policies need to focus on REDUCING CRIME, whether engendered by drugs or by the prohibition of drugs. And it holds that disease and death can be diminished even among people who can’t, or won’t, stop taking drugs. This pragmatic approach is followed in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Australia, and parts of Germany, Austria, Britain, and a growing number of other countries.
American drug warriors like to denigrate the Dutch, but the fact remains that Dutch drug policy has been dramatically more successful than U.S. drug policy. The average age of heroin addicts in the Netherlands has been increasing for almost a decade; HIV rates among addicts are dramatically lower than in the United States; police don’t waste resources on non-disruptive drug users but, rather, focus on major dealers or petty dealers who create public nuisances. The decriminalized cannabis markets are regulated in a quasi-legal fashion far more effective and inexpensive than the U.S. equivalent.
The Swiss have embarked on a national experiment of prescribing heroin to addicts. The two-year-old plan, begun in Zurich, is designed to determine whether they can reduce drug- and prohibition-related crime, disease, and death by making pharmaceutical heroin legally available to addicts at regulated clinics. The results of the experiment have been sufficiently encouraging that it is being extended to over a dozen Swiss cities. Similar experiments are being initiated by the Dutch and Australians. There are no good scientific or ethical reasons not to try a heroin-prescription experiment in the United States.
Our Federal Government puts politics over science by ignoring extensive scientific evidence that sterile syringes can reduce the spread of AIDS. Connecticut permitted needle sales in drugstores in 1992, and the policy resulted in a 40 per cent decrease in needle sharing among injecting drug users, at no cost to taxpayers.
We see similar foolishness when it comes to methadone. Methadone is to street heroin more or less what nicotine chewing- gum and skin patches are to cigarettes. Hundreds of studies, as well as a National Academy of Sciences report last year, have concluded that methadone is more effective than any other treatment in reducing heroin-related crime, disease, and death. In Australia and much of Europe, addicts who want to reduce or quit their heroin use can obtain a prescription for methadone from a GP and fill the prescription at a local pharmacy. In the United States, by contrast, methadone is available only at highly regulated and expensive clinics.
A warning of the prohibitionists is that there’s no going back once we reverse course and legalize drugs. But what the reforms in Europe and Australia demonstrate is that our choices are not all or nothing. Virtually all the steps described above represent modest and relatively low-risk initiatives to reduce drug and prohibition-related harms WITHIN OUR CURRENT PROHIBITION REGIME. At the same time, these steps are helpful in thinking through the consequences of more far-reaching drug-policy reform. You don’t need to go for formal legalization to embark on numerous reforms that would yield great dividends. But these run into opiaphobia.
The blame is widespread. Cowardly Presidents, unwilling to assume leadership for reform. A Congress so concerned with appearing tough on crime that it is unwilling to analyze alternative approaches. A drug czar who debases public debate by equating legalization with genocide. A drug enforcement/treatment complex so hooked on government dollars that the anti-drug crusade has become a vested interest.
But perhaps the worst offender is the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration–not so much the agents who risk their lives trying to apprehend major drug traffickers as the ideologically driven bureaucrats who intimidate and persecute doctors for prescribing pain medication in medically appropriate (but legally suspicious) doses, who hobble methadone programs with their overregulation, who acknowledge that law enforcement alone cannot solve the drug problem but then proceed to undermine innovative public-health initiatives.
I am often baffled by the resistance of conservatives to drug-policy reform, but encouraged by the willingness of many to reassess their views once they have heard the evidence. Conservatives who oppose the expansion of federal power cannot look approvingly on the growth of the federal drug-enforcement bureaucracy and federal efforts to coerce states into adopting federally formulated drug policies. Those who focus on the victimization of Americans by predatory criminals can hardly support our massive diversion of law-enforcement resources to apprehending and imprisoning nonviolent vice merchants and consumers. Those concerned with overregulation can hardly countenance our current handling of methadone, our refusal to allow over-the-counter sale of sterile syringes, our prohibition of medical marijuana. And conservatives who turn to the Bible for guidance on current affairs can find little justification there for our war on drugs and the people who use and sell them.
3. KURT SCHMOKE
Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore may be the only sitting
politician who advocates, if not outright legalization,
reforms in that direction. But even if he is lonely, he is
not hopeless on the question of democratic political
enlightenment. Mr. Schmoke was first elected mayor in 1987.
He is a graduate of Yale University and a Rhodes Scholar.
Serious problems require serious minds. That may help explain why William F. Buckley Jr. was one of the first public figures to acknowledge that the war on drugs is a failure. I don’t know how Mr. Buckley’s early apostasy about the war on drugs was greeted by his conservative colleagues–although it’s not hard to guess–but I remember the reaction in 1988 to my own call for a national debate on that war. A leading congressional liberal called me the most dangerous man in America. A national magazine referred to me as “a nice young man who had a bright future.” Many of my political supporters encouraged me to drop the subject and stick to potholes.
Potholes are important, but, as Mr. Buckley argued to the New York Bar Association, dropping the subject of the war on drugs means dropping any hope of solving some of America’s most difficult social problems. The war on drugs isn’t a solution in search of a problem. It’s a problem in search of a solution.
How big a problem? Very big. As Mr. Buckley points out, “More people die every year as a result of the war on drugs than die from what we call, generically, overdosing.” He is similarly correct in noting that blanket prohibition is a major source of crime: it inflates the price of drugs, inviting new criminals to enter the trade; reduces the number of police officers available to investigate violent crime; fosters adulterated, even poisonous, drugs; and contributes significantly to the transmission of HIV. These are not problems that are merely tangential to the war on drugs. These are problems caused, or made substantially worse, by the war on drugs.
That is why I have long advocated that the war on drugs be fought as a public-health war. This is sometimes called medicalization, or regulated distribution. Under this alternative to the war on drugs, the government would set up a regulatory regime to pull addicts into the public-health system. The government, not criminal traffickers, would control the price, distribution, and purity of addictive substances–which it already does with prescription drugs. This would take most of the profit out of drug trafficking, and it is profits that drive the crime. Addicts would be treated–and if necessary maintained– under medical auspices. Children would find it harder, not easier, to get their hands on drugs. And law enforcement would be able to concentrate on the highest echelons of drug-trafficking enterprises.
I do not specifically endorse the idea of a federal drugstore, particularly if that means selling drugs to people who are not already physically or psychologically addicted. On the other hand, I do support a national commission to study ALL possible alternatives (including legalization) to our failed strategy of blanket prohibition. This commission would be similar to the 1929 Wickersham Commission, which President Hoover set up to study how to enforce alcohol prohibition more strictly. Although Hoover tried to conceal the results, the commission concluded that alcohol prohibition was, in the words of Walter Lippmann, a “helpless failure.” I believe that an objective and nonpartisan inquiry would come to the same conclusion about the war on drugs.
I also support Mr. Buckley’s idea of applying a “utilitarian” calculus to the war on drugs. Congress is quite enthusiastic about weighing the costs and benefits of health care, welfare, community development, and other domestic programs. It should apply a similar analysis to the war on drugs, a war that is now costing the Federal Government $14 billion a year.
In weighing the costs and benefits, Congress would not have to start from scratch. There have been many studies and experiments, including our needle-exchange program in Baltimore. This program costs $160,000 a year. The cost to the state of Maryland of taking care of just one adult AIDS patient infected through the sharing of a syringe is $102,000 to $120,000. In other words, if just two addicts are protected from HIV through the city’s needle exchange, the program will have paid for itself.
But a cost-benefit analysis for the war on drugs would do more than offer a guide to the sensible allocation of federal dollars. It would also make advocating changes in the war on drugs less politically risky for elected officials. Unfortunately, that risk has kept most political leaders in lockstep support of the war on drugs.
I understand their reluctance to call for an end to blanket prohibition, especially since individual mayors and governors cannot, by themselves, end the war on drugs or its devastating effects on their communities. However, I also believe that the political risks of debating and criticizing the war on drugs have been overstated. I have been elected twice since 1988. In my most recent election, last year, my opponent specifically attacked my call for a new strategy in the war on drugs. She advocated “zero tolerance,” which is more of a slogan than a policy, and said she would sign the Atlanta resolution, which supports the status quo. In spite of her distortions of my record on drug policy, I won re-election by a 20-point margin, the widest margin in my political career.
Although I strongly believe that changes in national drug policy must be national in scope, I have nevertheless tried to demonstrate that some reforms can be made on the local level. For example, in 1993 I formed a Mayor’s Working Group on Drug Policy Reform, and I have since implemented most of its major recommendations. These recommendations included providing for more community policing; encouraging Baltimore’s teaching hospitals to make addiction treatment a larger part of their curriculum; and, most important, developing the needle-exchange program mentioned above.
Needle exchange was my top legislative priority in 1994. We could not begin the program without a change in the state’s drug- paraphernalia laws. In the previous two years, lawmakers had been reluctant to go along, in part out of fear that they would be accused of condoning drug use. But in 1994, we were able to convince the legislature that needle exchange would not increase drug use but instead would save lives, and perhaps even reduce crime.
The most politically effective argument in selling needle exchange was that it would slow the spread of AIDS. That is because 70 per cent of new AIDS cases in Baltimore are related to intravenous drug use, and AIDS is now the number-one killer of both young men and young women in Baltimore. (This crisis is not unique to Baltimore, and the problem is especially horrendous for African-Americans. A recent report entitled HEALTH EMERGENCY: THE SPREAD OF DRUG-RELATED AIDS AMONG AFRICAN-AMERICANS AND LATINOS, shows that 73,000 African-Americans have drug-related AIDS or have died from it. Among people who inject drugs, African- Americans are almost 5 times as likely as whites to be diagnosed with AIDS. And for African-Americans, the risk of getting AIDS is 7 times greater than the risk of dying from an overdose.)
I’m proud that Baltimore now has the largest government-run needle exchange program in the country. That program is being thoroughly evaluated by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Hygiene. I expect that evaluation to show that needle exchange is saving lives, a claim that the war on drugs has not been able to make for more than eighty years.
Mario Cuomo once made an observation that both liberals and conservatives should feel comfortable endorsing. He said that policymakers must distinguish between ideas that sound good and good ideas that are sound. The current war on drugs is an idea that sounds good, but it is not a good idea that is sound. After hundreds of billions of dollars spent trying to stop the supply and demand of drugs, after the break-up of thousands of families because of the arrest of a nonviolent drug offender, after eight decades of failure, how much longer will the war on drugs continue?
I once told a television reporter that the war on drugs was our domestic Vietnam. Conservatives and liberals disagree about the justice of that war. But we generally agree that the strategy for fighting it didn’t work, and as a result the war lasted too long and cost too many lives. The same is true of the war on drugs. It’s time to bring this enervating war to an end. It’s time for peace.