The Financial Times comes out strongly against the asinine and never ending War on Drugs:
For nearly 40 years, since the habits established in the 1960s took root in society, there has been a stand-off. Across the free world, and most of the unfree, anyone seriously interested in smoking, snorting, swallowing or injecting illegal substances can acquire the wherewithal with a little effort, and proceed without much fear of retribution, particularly if they are wealthy enough. Police and politicians say they are interested in punishing the suppliers and not the users. This is an intellectual nonsense, but it has suited everyone who matters. The drug users don’t care; governments have felt no pressure to attempt a politically dangerous reform; and above all it suits the international gangsters who control the drug business, which offers massive rewards and – for them – minimal risks.
But 2009 has seen a change: among the academics and professionals who study this issue, from Carlisle Racecourse to the think-tanks of Washington, there is growing sense that reform is possible and increasingly urgent. The argument is not that drug use is A Good Thing. It is that the collateral damage caused by the so-called war on drugs has now reached catastrophic proportions. And even some politicians have started to think this might be worth discussing. The biggest single reason (as with so much else this year) is the Obama Effect. In one way, this may be short-lived since the president’s reputation will eventually be tarnished by reality. But the chief barrier to reform has been that the international agreements barring the drugs trade have been enforced primarily by threats of retaliation from the White House.
Obama is the third successive president believed to have used illegal drugs: Bill Clinton famously did not inhale; in a conversation that was secretly taped when he was governor of Texas, George W. Bush didn’t deny that he had smoked marijuana or used cocaine; Obama has admitted using both dope and “a little blow”. Unlike the other two, he is also on record as favouring decriminalisation of cannabis and more generally addressing the problem. The president having other preoccupations, there is no sign of him proposing the Do What The Hell You Like Bill to Congress any time soon. There is every sign that the blanket ban on other people’s initiatives has been partially lifted.
[Click to continue reading FT.com / Reportage – Why it’s time to end the war on drugs]
and concludes with:
Of course drugs need to be controlled, just as alcohol, tobacco, firearms, prescription drugs, food additives and indeed UN bureaucrats with massive budgets need to be controlled. But the whole point is that illicit drugs are not controlled. The international pretence of prohibition sees to that. One of the major arguments advanced for continuing the ban on cannabis is that the currently available strains of the drug do not offer the gentle highs of the hippie years but are intensively cultivated and far more potent, with potentially serious psychological effects. The analysis is correct, according to my stoner friends. But the logic is 180 degrees wrong. Imagine a total ban on tobacco, which is no longer so unthinkable. Among the consequences would be an immediate return to the unfiltered full-strength gaspers of the 1950s, just as American alcohol prohibition produced moonshine. One benign consequence of drug legalisation would be that users would have a guarantee of quality and strength/mildness: an end to heroin flavoured with brick dust (many believe adulteration is the real killer), and the type of marijuana they actually want.
Decriminalisation or even legalising cannabis on its own would achieve little. Something more radical is required. The crucial issue concerns the supply chain: the way prohibition has enriched and empowered gangsters, corrupt officials and indeed wholly corrupt narco-states across the planet. It was a point made eloquently by the Russian economist Lev Timofeev, when interviewed by Misha Glenny for his book about global organised crime, McMafia. “Prohibiting a market does not mean destroying it,” Timofeev said. What it means is placing a “dynamically developing market under the total control of criminal corporations”. He called the present situation a threat to world civilisation, which international public opinion had failed to grasp.
Proper reform means legitimising production and supply, precisely so it can be controlled. Would it unleash a drug epidemic worse than the one we now have? Well, it would be an unusual child of the 1960s who did not mark the moment with a celebratory joint. But the novelty would soon wear off. And from then on, the places where it is easiest to obtain drugs would no longer be the inside of jails and inner-city school playgrounds.
Imagine a situation…where all drugs were sold in pharmacies licensed for the purpose. Taxation could be set at a level that brought in revenue but still made illegal dealing uncompetitive. For the more dangerous and addictive drugs there would be compulsory medical supervision. Identity checks and strict record-keeping would be required. There would be laws (which could actually be enforced) against advertising, adulteration, use in public, driving under the influence and supply to minors.
In what way would that be worse than the present situation?