Friday, February 29, 2008

Five letters in today's Wall Street Journal

Rather like the Financial Times in the UK, the Wall Street Journal in the US seems more able than many other papers to engage intelligently with the debate around the failure of prohibition and possible alternative approaches (not that I'm agreeing with everything said below, just highlighting the engagement). Maybe its something to do with the rational economist's perspective, the whole pragmatic cost benefit analysis thing, who knows.

This from today's letters pages:



Regarding Mary Anastasia O'Grady's remarkably balanced column "Mexico Under Siege" (Americas, Feb. 25): If an increase in street prices is the definition of drug war success, perhaps we should strive for failure.

The supply-side drug war provides artificial price supports for organized crime. For addictive drugs like methamphetamine, a spike in street prices leads desperate addicts to increase criminal activity to feed desperate habits. The drug war doesn't fight crime, it fuels crime.

There is a middle ground between prohibition and legalization. Switzerland's heroin maintenance program has been shown to reduce disease, death and crime among chronic users. Heroin maintenance pilot projects are underway in Canada, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. If expanded, prescription heroin maintenance would deprive organized crime of a core client base. This would render illegal heroin trafficking unprofitable and spare future generations addiction.

Marijuana should be taxed and regulated like alcohol, only without the ubiquitous advertising. Separating the hard and soft drug markets is critical. As long as marijuana distribution is controlled by organized crime, consumers will come into contact with sellers of hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. This "gateway" is the direct result of a U.S. drug policy based on cultural norms rather than health outcomes.

Robert Sharpe
Policy Analyst
Common Sense for Drug Policy


Note to government officials: If you are bragging about success because you seized a DC-9 full of cocaine, and because drug-related violence is up, then you are not losing the war on drugs. You have already lost. If you were winning then the opponents would never get to the point of buying a DC-9.

Clifford A. Schaffer
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Agua Dulce, Calif.


It is long past time to recognize that the only beneficiaries of this country's war on drugs are the traffickers and legions of police who oppose them. As with alcohol, gambling and tobacco, a scheme of regulation and taxation combined with rehabilitation and punitive measures for those unable to use drugs responsibly would better serve our populace, as well as that of our southern neighbors.

Greg Brown, M.D.
Columbus, Ind.


Kudos to Ms. O'Grady for pointing out some uncomfortable truths that the federal government and many of our elected officials are afraid to admit: The drug war is failing and prohibition has led to thousands of violent deaths in Mexico.

It is shocking to think that more Mexicans died last year due to drug prohibition than did American soldiers in Iraq. There is nothing in the coca or marijuana plant that causes these deaths. Rather, it is prohibition that creates a profit motive that people are willing to kill for. Remember, when alcohol consumption was illegal in this country we had Al Capone and shootouts in the streets. Today, no one dies over the sale of a beer.

It is time for an honest and open international debate about controlling, taxing and regulating illegal drugs so we can find an exit strategy from this unwinnable war.

Tony Newman
Drug Policy Alliance
New York


I am a mechanical engineer working in a chemical plant in southeast Texas. Many professional peers of my approximate age, as well as operators and mechanics, were what we call "recreational drug users" in the early 1980s. It would be reasonable to be highly concerned
about this given the highly hazardous processing systems these people design, maintain and operate.

Despite the obvious liability associated with having possibly drug-impaired individuals working with such hazardous materials, it was not until 1988 that our corporation initiated mandatory drug testing.

You might be surprised to know that there was not a noticeable change in people getting fired or even going to rehab for drug use. For the most part, users recognized that their livelihood was now at stake and they quit.

The so-called war on drugs of today is very similar to Prohibition of the 1920s-'30s. It has built multi-billion dollar criminal empires, made criminals of people who would otherwise be little more than dead-beat losers at worst, and corrupted large chunks of government and law enforcement in various places around the world, including here in the U.S.

Why not legalize drug possession/use (as long as it's not associated with another crime or DUI) for adults, while at the same time eliminating any legal barriers to discrimination against users by any entity, public or private, for any reason, or for no reason at all.

This would remove the drug problem from the criminal justice system and address it by societal discrimination.

Joe Reimers
Orange, Texas

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