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The Long Range Question: Should We End Prohibition

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To answer the question properly it must be subjected to a rational examination of the costs and benefits.  

This can only happen if the question becomes the subject of public debate and discussion.  

Some Of The Benefits  

* The elimination of nearly all of the illegal drug trade [IDT]; no more drug cartels, drug lords and drug dealers.  

One major connected benefit is that drugs would no longer be "easy to get" as most of our teens now report.  

Another is that there would be a major decrease in crime directly traced to the IDT and its customers. See: Crime and Drugs 

* A huge reduction in the burden on the court system, making the criminal justice system and law enforcement far more effective at protecting the public's safety and less corrupt. 

See: Drug War Damage  

One example is that we now make more arrests just for marijuana offenses than arrests for murder, rape, robbery and armed assault combined.  

Another is that about half of all convictions of public officials for corruption involve connections to the IDT.  

* A huge reduction in innocent victims harmed primarily by the operation of the IDT and also by police errors and abuses of power. 

See: Moral Dilemma  

* Huge dollar savings.  

Direct savings in the $30 billion a year range but indirect savings and tax revenue might well triple the amount or more. A government analyst in 1994 estimated minimum savings of about $35 billion a year; the number would be much larger today. In America's Longest War, Professor S. Duke of Yale has estimated that the ripple effect of social savings could total over $400 billion a year.  

* More effective responses to terrorism 

No one disputes that illegal drug profits have helped fund terrorists from Spain to Kosovo to Afghanistan. Osama Bin Ladin is a known beneficiary. 

The only drug that can provide money to a terrorist is one that we have decided to prohibit. 

Beyond the profits is the diversion of resources. When law enforcement has the immense burden of enforcing prohibition and some 1,500,000 drug related arrests each year, that is an enormous resource that is not engaged in Homeland Security. 

Moreover, the reality that even the attempt to stop the drug trade creates a major dilemma for the US is typified by this article from Time magazine, by Tim McGirk, Aug. 18, 2003 : 

Drugs? What Drugs? 

The U.S. military may be turning a blind eye to Afghanistan's drug trade, which fills the coffers of both enemies and allies 

While searching for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, U.S. special forces in Afghanistan routinely come across something they're not looking for: evidence of a thriving Afghan drug trade. But they're not doing anything about it, antinarcotics experts tell TIME. ... 

... "I'm positive that the Taliban are heavily involved in drug trafficking," says Wais Yasini, counter-narcotics adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "How else do you account for the source of their money?" This year, after a bumper crop of opium poppies, say U.N. officials, Afghanistan became the world's largest heroin producer, with an estimated $1.2 billion in profits. 

The debate over whether to crack down on the drug trade has reached the top levels of the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld doesn't want the already over-stretched 8,000 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan to become sidetracked from their main goal: to capture and kill terrorists. And chasing drug smugglers could take away allies from the Americans. Diplomats say many of the local commanders the U.S. military relies on for intelligence on al-Qaeda and the Taliban and to provide hired guns are mixed up in the drug business. "Without money from drugs, our friendly warlords can't pay their militias," says a Kabul diplomat. "It's as simple as that."


The Costs  

The single major fear is that changes in the law would mean more drug abuse and related costs to society.  

It is very unlikely that any such cost exists :

* Since about 75% of the young already use illegal drugs by age 22, there is virtually no room for any worse result.  

See: 62% Use

* Adults rarely change their orientation toward drug abuse. There is no evidence to explain why a person who now behaves responsibly in regard to alcohol and other drugs would change their personal outlook because of any change in the law.  

See: Factors

* It is obvious that anyone who really wants illegal drugs can get them now. 

See: Drug War Failure 

* Already dangerous drugs are only made more dangerous by making them illegal. Since the use continues regardless, the result is more harm to society when drugs are made illegal. 

See: Prohibition = More Danger

See: If All Drugs were Legal for a more extensive look at the question of whether changes in the law would have any significant negative impact on the use and abuse of drugs in our society; we think not.  

The Conclusion  

It is possible to reasonably question the analysis above, but it is consistent with the available evidence. Open discussion and accountability should not be avoided by dismissing such a debate as "unthinkable."  

The obvious first step would be to test its accuracy with one drug, marijuana, by far the most commonly used illegal drug and one which is clearly less dangerous than alcohol. See: Marijuana  

In Change we suggest that a different leadership structure would lead to better analysis. In Heroin we look at one possible way to further test with the alternative of prescription sale to registered addicts.  

  We will always have an ample supply of drugs whether they are illegal or not - we can't stop that.  

An illegal drug trade IDT of substantial size can only exist if drugs are prohibited. A world with no more drug cartels and drug lords is something we can have if we want. That's worth exploring.


by Edward Ellison 

(excerpts from London Daily Mail, March 10, 1998) 

"Seven years of my life was spent in Scotland Yard anti-drugs squad, four as its head. I saw the misery that drug abuse can cause. 

I saw at first hand the squalor, the wrecked lives, the deaths. I've seen too many youngsters die. I'm determined my children don't get hooked - which is why I want all drugs legalised. 

We have attempted prohibition. Drug use is now part of the social life of around half of our children. Quite obviously, prohibition has failed. 

We can take the criminal out of the supply chain, and reduce demand by economic means and by education. We cannot do it by policing. Lord knows we have been trying long enough. 

Time and again politicians parrot one phrase: Legalising drugs is 'unthinkable'. Yet politicians are paid to think. The pushers earn my hatred: politicians who are too cowardly to think, or to promote public debate, earn my contempt. 

They forget, those who spout the word 'unthinkable', that drugs like heroin were once legal, and fairly recently too. In the Sixties, clinics were allowed to prescribe to heroin addicts, drugs from reputable, medical sources at prices that were not inflated. 

Today, drugs that cost the equivalent of $1,000 on the street could be produced for the NHS for just $1. That is $999 that would not have to be found by the addicts - in other words, stolen from you. It is $999 that would not go straight into the pockets of crime syndicates. 

The benefit to the drug addict would be huge. Getting his drugs from a legal source would access him to counseling, support, therapy - all the things he or she needs to break dependency. 

Legalised cannabis would mean that parents and teachers could discuss it with young people openly, not confrontationally. It means those thinking of using it will get education, not propaganda, and they will be less likely to take it as a gesture of adolescent rebellion. 

The criminals would be hit where it hurts them most - in their pockets. Their power-base would be cut from under their feet. They would have no more clients. We would truly drive them out of business. 

I abhor drug abuse and criminal activity. I condemn a policy that profits criminals, and I am angered by the drug crimes that effect us all. I am ashamed at the limited resources available to support victims and their families, and I am angered most by politicians who claim to have no license even to discuss alternatives." 

* More information on the organization, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition [LEAP], and Ellison are at www.leap.cc

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