More evidence that the US drug policy debate has moving decisively towards both mainstream and the pro-reform agenda came from the recent engagement of the Wall Street Journal, that ran pro-legalisation piece (mostly focusing on cannabis) by Yale Law professor Steven Duke, and an anti-legalisation piece by former US drug Tsar John Walters. Reading the comments sections (compare and contrast) gives an indication of where the public debate is now up to in the States, reflected in the selection of four letters published today, copied below:
Thank you for presenting the prohibitionist view offered by John P. Walters, a man of significant experience and stature ("Drugs: To Legalize or Not," Weekend Journal, April 25). If the defense of the indefensible had been presented by an individual of lesser accomplishments you could be justifiably accused of bias in favor of the opposing argument presented by Steven B. Duke. To my knowledge no other national newspaper has undertaken this third-rail issue.
Mr. Duke's reference to the undeniably successful eight-year-old Portuguese experiment would be immediately comprehensible to my 12-year-old granddaughter, though perhaps not to her five-year-old sister or to those Americans who steadfastly cling to the notion of the perfectibility of human nature.
As Mr. Walters points out, repealing prohibition didn't end crime, but it removed the glamour and money from bootlegging. The real victims of repeal were among the small criminal element of police, politicians and judges. What has reduced the drug, alcohol and tobacco-abusing segments to today's levels is not, as Mr. Walters would have us believe, an expensive war on drugs, but widespread and successful education efforts by health professionals and governments.
Twenty-first century repeal would cut the ground out from under the wealthy and corrupting Latin American drug syndicates, as well as the Taliban and other beneficiaries of our current drug policy. We could call a halt to the incarceration of minority drug users now subject to discriminatory drug prosecutions, close half our prisons, and divert precious resources now wasted on our war on drugs to constructive uses.
Jon Somer, Oldwick, N.J.
Over many decades, my drug of choice has been alcohol, unlike Mr. Walters, the former drug czar, who seems to be fatally addicted to the drug of power, an addiction that leads to the fatal delusion that we can win a century-long battle that began with the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914. My only direct contact with the drug war was a half-century ago, when I found myself for almost a year on a federal grand jury whose main function was to indict dozens of street-level marijuana dealers.
But over many decades I have watched, incredulous, as the drug war helped expand drug usage at ever cheaper prices, all the while funneling generations of blacks and other minorities into the civilized world's largest prison system. Nobel laureate Milton Friedman contributed to our understanding with several Wall Street Journal op-ed pieces, one in 1972, when we were deluged by heroin imports from Marseille, and another in 1989, when the problem was cocaine imports from Colombia. In his 1989 article, an open letter to drug czar Bill Bennett, Mr. Walters' predecessor, Friedman wrote: "The very measures you favor are a major source of the evils you deplore. Of course the problem is demand, but it is demand that must operate through repressed and illegal channels.
Illegality creates obscene profits that finance the murderous tactics of the drug lords; illegality leads to the corruption of law-enforcement officials; illegality monopolizes the efforts of honest law forces to that they are starved for resources to fight the simpler crimes of robbery, theft and assault."
William M. Burke
I resent the myth fostered by the pro-legalization organizations that minimize the dangers of marijuana. Not only is it addictive, but it is also harmful with serious long-term effects. It is a gateway drug all too often as well. Mankind is cursed with many ills, but giving up on the cures by pretending there is no evil is superficial, cowardly and immoral.
Mr. Duke's column on the necessity of legalizing drugs is spot-on, outside of its glaring omission of the primary reason for legalizing drugs: Human beings have a natural right as rational animals to ingest anything they wish. All of us who do or did drugs (as I did as a youth) know that you can acquire any drug any time, usually within minutes or hours of the desire. The only thing that ever changes is price, which, like all commodities, depends upon availability and demand. Each and every American knows somebody in his or her circle f friends who sells at least small amounts of drugs, whether they know it or not.
Let's bring it above ground to the light of day and stop burying police officers and others below ground in a futile attempt at regulating human behavior. I commend the Journal for having the courage to bring this subject up in a major, public way. Now, let's start talking rationally.