An Unhappy Ending To The Drug War?
Published on: July 10, 2011
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  • Jack Straw

    One that you make are not all that well-established – that legalization would to availability of harder and more varied types of drugs. It might, but it also may lead more moderate varieties. The relative markets for Evercleer and Bud Lite are evidence of this. In addition, it’s not all that clear that there is any reliable baseline for measuring where we are. How much current illegal drug use is truly recreational and how much is self-medication? How much of a problem is legal drug use? There are a ton of SSRIs on the market, and they’re not problem-free.

    The medical marijuana debate strikes most (at least as they appear to me) as wink-wink, nod-nod subterfuge. But, what if most of these people just feel better taking their “medicine?” I don’t think it’s an answer to say “they just think they feel better.” What’s wrong with that, anyway? It’s certainly OK in many circumstances. People go to the doctor because they want to feel better, not necessarily because they have a fixable condition. They have a glass of wine when they get home from work to help them relax. They buy ibuprofen by the case at CostCo for their aches and pains.

    You’re more optimistic than I am that a semblance of rationality will prevail. The “meth epidemic” was great example. I’m not saying it wasn’t a problem, or that people in the throes of amphetamine psychosis make great neighbors. Or, that it isn’t frighteningly destructive. But, it isn’t new. Methamphetamine was a very pre-60s drug.

  • Jack Straw

    “One that you make are not all that well-established”

    Really bad self-edit:

    Should be: “One point that you make is not all that well-established – that legalization would lead to availability of harder and more varied types of drugs.”

  • Mark Montgomery

    The biggest problem in the “war on drugs” is the police. If all drugs were legal and freely available at every pharmacy then the criminals would be cut out of the picture. Drug users would be able to afford their drugs because they would now be extremely cheap. Heroin and cocaine would cost less than a dollar a dose. This would greatly reduce burglaries street crime. We would have to house one million fewer prisoners in our prisons, saving 10 billion dollars a year. We could retire a load of cops and stop paying for this pointless “war on drugs” saving at least 30 billion more dollars a year. Heroin addicts would now have safe heroin of a predictable dose so overdose deaths would greatly diminish. See why this will never work? The REAL war in the USA is a civil war, the police against the rest of the citizens. The front line is at the airport where you are denied your civil rights and searched down to your underwear. When are they going to start pulling this kind of insanity on trains and buses too? We face a day when you will not be able to carry or transport anything when you travel. We DO have a real enemy in the USA and it is law enforcement, they are the real bad guys. Get the cops out of our lives now. Mark Montgomery NYC, NY [email protected]

  • Danny Ross

    This may be the most incoherent article on drugs I have ever read. If the author has any knowledge experience with either drugs or the prison system, I would be very surprised. The answer is simple: do away with criminal penalties for possession and use of all drugs by adults, period. Attempts at prohibition have proven unambiguously disastrous over the last century, and the variety and quantity of available drugs has been diminished not at all. If you doubt this, ask almost any high-school-aged youth who trusts you if he could get drugs if he wanted them. Depending on the level of trust, the result will almost always be “yes”.

  • Dick Pickett

    I always find Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” instructive in these matters.

  • Billy Godwin

    With all due respect to the author, the poor are continually treated as animals at the shelter, or a family pet, and not just by Mr. Mead. The inner city youth are under educated in terms of formal schooling, but seem to learn the drug trade well enough. Can it be that much of a stretch that those same youth could learn math, English, and science?

    What responsibility do the poor have, and when do they start to take some responsibility for themselves?

  • Legalize everything. Sell everything in state-run stores. But to each and every drug add a substance that, if consumed over a period of time, causes permanent and irreversible sterility in both men and women.

    The real problem with drugs is not that they ruin lives and often kill their users, but that they don’t work quickly enough to remove the trash from our gene pool before they reproduce.

    Civilization trumps natural selection, especially in places like the US where losers aren’t just likely to survive, but even more likely to breed than winners in many cases.

    Use drugs to remove the idiots and losers from our gene pool so that, even if they don’t die with a needle in their arm, they won’t be making any little losers and idiots to cause is grief in the future.

    Let drugs become the synthetic alternative to natural selection that our gene pool and society so desperately need.

  • Dodo Bird

    Having been a drug abuser (marijuana, cocaine, mescaline, angel dust, etc), I believe that legalization is encouraging another vice of which we can do without. If drugs are legalized, tax them so that all proceeds must be used for the resultant substance abuse treatment. This action would reduce health insurance premiums significantly. Making society responsible for drug abusers simply encourages their behavior.

  • Walter,

    People in Chronic Pain Chronically Take Pain Relievers.

    If you have a cure for pain that doesn’t require drugs and is cheaper than drugs I’d like to hear about it.

    PTSD and the Endocannabinoid System

    Doctors know this. The biggest scandal going is that the public is kept ignorant.

    A well known secret

  • Big Mike

    “Drug addicts and heavy, habitual users do not make good students, good workers, good citizens, good neighbors or good parents.”

    Sir, that’s a statement of belief, not fact. I’ve known plenty of people who were drug users, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, who have turned into great parents, great grandparents, and model citizens.

    Like Bill Hicks said: They never show any of the positive drug stories. Never see a story about the guy who decides to sit at home, smoke a joint, and watch TV rather than going to the bar and get into an accident drunk driving on the way home BECAUSE he isn’t creating a story which is deemed “news worthy”. All we ever hear about are the drug users who cause problems, never the peaceful, quite, low key people who don’t cause them. It’s the nature of the establishment media that you guys can’t focus on them, they don’t sell papers.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      I’m not sure whether you are agreeing or disagreeing with me here. You say you knew heavy drug users in the sixties and seventies who BECAME good parents and so forth. You don’t say that they remained heavy drug users through the decades. I agree that addicts and heavy habitual users can become much better people in every respect once they get their relationships with intoxicating substances in the right place. But until then?

  • tom beebe st louis

    I must agree with these comments and suggestions on drug policy. As to the unemployed, minority youth, we must address their inadequate opportunities. I say opportunities because trying to address their needs just hasn’t worked, and never will. As we admit losing the war on drugs, let us also admit to losing the war on poverty. After all, its been around much longer than the republic. Supply side economics got a bad rap because it assumed that leaving more money in the hands of the wealthy would provide more investment and a greater incentive for them to creat wealth in which we all might share. A more targeted tax and transfer payment structure is required to achieve those necessary results. Perhaps taxes on consumption, excluding income saved for investment, would address the greatest need of the underclass, greater employment opportunity. Certainly the “entitlements” have been an even greater failure tan the war on drugs. Let us, as the author of this article suggests, attack these two issues together.

  • Douglas

    Query: If the Drug War is ended in the manner you suggest, and the result is that highly disproportionate numbers of minorities are excluded from colleges, good jobs, etc. because of drug tests, what do you think the response will be from the liberal establishment?


    Why would anyone think a drug addict would be satisfied with prescription regulated heroin? A “predictable dose?” Give me a break! They want to get HIGH, not take medicine to cure an ailment. They will take 10 of your “predictable doses” in one hour. Do you think people read the instructions when they are abusing Oxys? One every eight hours with meals…yeah right!

    My solution is legalize the drugs. Outlaw the public-funded treatment. Let them kill themselves or fix themselves on their own dime.

  • Luke Lea

    “On the whole, I’m inclined to agree that we have to try sliomething new: when an effort is expensive and destructive and it isn’t working, it is generally time for change. But this is easier said than done:”

    How about the Pres. issue an executive order for a temporary legalization of drugs as a matter of military necessity (opium in Afghanistan) and national security (war on the Mexican border)? Then we could see what happens. Who knows, maybe drugs would lose their cachet in the ghetto, become stigmatized instead of glamourized. Take the money out of it.

  • Cu187

    Wow, Mark. Did you get a speeding ticket this weekend? I’ll grant that the insane War on Drugs has created mutual hostility, hatred, etc. between law enforcement and poor communities, but that’s hardly the fault of front line police officers. Civics 101: the Legislative Branch creates and enacts the laws, the Executive Branch is tasked with enforcing those, sometimes irrational, laws. Law Enforcement is further tasked with thoroughly enforcing the laws that that the politicians and the public are clamoring loudest about. Strom Thurmond was not the author of the legislation that created the sentencing disparities between powder and crack cocaine; urban, black Democratic congressmen were. Most Americans don’t seem to have the problem with Law Enforcement that you have, perhaps because they understand these simple facts. For the record, I’m a cop, hate the drug war and consider the TSA to be dangerously politically correct security theatre. On that last point, TSA has been running security ops on trains, buses and even personal cars;

  • CatoRenasci

    The most important policy change, if we legalize drugs, would be to require abstinence from drugs as a condition to receipt of any publicly funded benefits, including welfare, unemployment, medicaid, etc. With periodic mandatory testing.

    Mothers with minor children on the dole who test positive for drugs would lose custody of their children.

    Too often we forget that just because a we do not forbid behavior under the criminal law, that does not mean the behavior is considered desirable.

  • Mike Gordon

    I agree, ending the Drug War and permitting complete legalization won’t solve all of our problems and would very likely lead to others. That said, what we need to look at is what change would bring us the most improvement, at the least cost. My vote goes to decrimminalization of most street drugs. We would still have addicts and the ill effects caused by addicting and chronic drug use but we could emmensely scale back the current drug war. Inner city youths seem to be war’s greatest victims. constant and negative interaction with the police agencies of America put many urban youths on the wrong track very early in their lives. We could could seriously pare down the number of people tied up in the legal system as result of the crimminality associated with even casual marijuana use. Many young inner city males, even “good kids” have had nothing but bad experiences with the police (stop and search, excessive harrasment, etc. The job of the police in these neighborhoods, those guys on the front line of the drug war,is made more and more difficult as they receive less cooperation from even those residents who have nothing at all to do with illegal drug use.

    De-crimminalization of street drugs won’t solve all of the problems resulting from the Drug War, but it might be the first step.

  • Eric

    To quote from your article;

    “It costs billions we don’t have; it promotes the growth of transnational criminal gangs and supports large black markets in money and arms that terrorists as well as drug lords can use; if fills the prisons and it hasn’t stopped either the use of existing illegal drugs or the development of new ones. ”

    You could say the exact same things about illegal immigration.

    Because this is put forward as an argument against the criminalization of illicit drugs, do you therefore find the above equally persuasive in regards to illegal immigration?

    For the record, I find it to be hogwash in both regards.

  • Sensible people know better than to expect Utopia from any policy or policy change. Utopia isn’t on the menu at any price. What we seek is an improvement over current conditions. If we can get a large improvement at a negligible cost, that’s terrific. But improvement of some measurable sort must be the criterion.

    Many of the negative consequences you describe here are actually in progress as we speak. Drugs are so available, and setups with which to “customize” them are so easy to construct, that the drug authorities are helpless before the tide. On some others, there’s room for doubt. But in this observation:

    “Basically, the country would take the position drug use is tolerated but not accepted…”

    …you’ve hit on the appropriate attitude toward the embrace of intoxication, legal or illegal. It works fairly well for alcohol; I surmise that it would about as well for any of the currently illegal intoxicants.

    Change is coming. Let’s try to make it constructive.

  • Josh S

    If you’re worried about the effects of ending the War on Drugs on the inner city, try ending the War on Schools at the same time…you know, the one where teachers’ unions and administrators join in a battle against students to grab the largest share possible of public money for themselves, while putting forth the least effort imaginable to actually teach them anything useful. Maybe end the War on Small Business and the War on Private Property while you’re at it.

  • JT

    Parsley’s legal??

  • Stephen J.

    Part of the problem is simply that every drug is different: laws appropriate to control one drug may not be appropriate for another, because the toxidromes are not identical. Alcoholism is a genetic vulnerability; you don’t “become” an alcoholic, you only discover that you are one. Heroin, opioids, meth and crack, by contrast, physically change your brain and nervous system; anyone can become a junkie, it’s only a question of dosage threshold and pace of use. Expecting alcohol-oriented laws to work the same way for hard drugs is a mistake.

    A graver problem is one that regulation won’t solve: Any legally regulated drug market would impose a “dosing age” minimum, and the vast majority of addicts become addicts in their teens; that market would stay illegal and continue to flourish, and might well become more widespread and destructive for the ease of underage users being able to steal more widely available adult-issued doses.

    The War on Drugs needs to be fought more smartly, not given up on.

  • theBuckWheat

    The war on some drugs but not others illustrates the limits of the nanny State. Further we presume the nanny is competent where she gives herself the power to intrude and coerce private behavior.

    Because collectivist nanny is clearly not competent we need to focus on the core issue: personal responsibility.

    Mead asks, “Is the FDA going to test drugs like ecstasy, crack cocaine and methamphetamine for purity and safety?” I ask, why do we give the FDA such power when there are already a number of more competent authorities who have already done this job and published their conclusions? We only compound the tragedy of substance abuse by involving anyone in government, for government can only use guns to back up their opinions.

    We can take a queue for another hazardous and deadly activity- scuba diving. There, private regulation allows peaceful governance of an activity. When someone wants to open a dive operation, they must accept the rules of the major scuba associations. Should they ever have a disagreement with the rules, they are free to peacefully associate with a different association. Divers know to look for signs of approval and few would dive with a rogue operator. Compliance is enforced by approval for liability insurance, or by the threat to decline approval. Customers won’t book trips with a diver operator who is not approved. Again, this is all peaceful and voluntary. When is the last time you heard of a shootout at a dive operation that went bad?

    The substance abuse problems of inner city cultural groups is not limited to that area alone. Happily, the nanny State has not attempted the fools errand of attempting to regulate copulation and conception in addressing the very high rate of father-less children. But suppose we had just come to realize that our 50 year battle with inappropriate conception had been a failure. Would we fret about making legalizing unlawful conception? What is the difference between attempting to regulate what genetic material people may decide to share in private and what psychoactive chemicals they share in private? I see no difference in the issue of what government has presumed to have the power to regulate, which is to say, it never really had the power in the first place and when it presumes to have the power, the unintended consequences of its wielding that power are more destructive to the whole society than the destruction caused by individuals acting irresponsible in their own lives.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    We need to legalize all of the drugs, tax them as we do Tobacco and Alcohol, and provide marketing campaigns which have done so much to reduce the number of smokers and drinkers. We are going to have addicts, lets deal with the problem openly and responsibly.

  • Jimbino

    Y’all are just ignorant of what has happened in Portugal since total decriminalization of all street drug use five years ago. Get yourselves informed and stop this Fascist Drug War.

    I’m only a nuclear physicist, fluent in 4 languages, who has no love left for Amerika. Get the message?

  • I too believe that prohibition has been a disaster. But I don’t see why people are criticizing the author so harshly for pointing out that legalization may have a downside, if it leads to more drug abuse, and thus more dysfunction broadly. Personally I don’t know if legal drugs — even alcohol — are compatible with a welfare state that pays people to not work, sometimes just because they are unemployable due to past or present drug abuse. But eliminating the welfare state is at least as hard a sell politically as legalizing hard drugs, and although I favor both, I don’t expect to live to see either happen.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    I’m a little confused as to why existing drug importers would want to go legit, pay taxes, see their profits forced down by competition and put up with all the government paperwork and work rules. Isn’t it more likely that they’d simply kill anyone who tried to legally compete with them, and continue to import and distribute drugs illegally? I’m pretty sure they aren’t just going to go away and leave their market to the legal competition.

    Don’t mistake me – I’m all for getting rid of the drug war and letting those who abuse drugs live with the consequences. But I don’t think we’ve considered strongly enough that the drug importers, who use violence freely, are for all practical purposes ‘states’ with a vested interest in keeping drugs ‘illegal’.

  • Fred

    From what I’ve read, places like the Netherlands have not had much success with drug legalization. They end up with a legal _and_ a black market in drugs. Also, something those who compare the drug war with prohibition might consider, per capita alcohol consumption was lower in America during prohibition than ever before or since. The same is doubtless true of drug prohibition. True we spend billions on the drug war, but how many of the billions we save by abandoning it will we lose through decreased productivity; strains on an already strained health care system from overdoses, diseases spread by needles, other diseases (like cancer and heart disease) associated with heavy drug use; accidents; etc? Will a vast increase in the number of treatment centers and use of hospital beds cost less than jail cells? I haven’t run those numbers or seen them run, but it certainly seems worthwhile to do as scientific a study as possible of the real cost/benefit of legalization. I have my doubts that the benefits outweigh the costs. And that’s only the material costs, not taking into account the intangible cost of human suffering of addicts, their spouses, and thier children.

  • Richard

    Well thought out article on the subject. I agree that what we are doing isn’t working and simply cannot continue. I also agree with your scenarios about drug taking after legalization. One commentator talked about safe and predictable heroin doses. There is no such thing. One of my early jobs was processing applications for drug rehab programs. Every heroin addict I interviewed smelled like he or she was already dead. You don’t need to worry about heroin addicts teaching your children, As their teeth and bones rot away, they are soon incapable of feeding or clothing themselves. I also read the other day that the Netherlands is closing up their marijuana cafes because they are a nuisance. So, I’m in basic agreement here. It will become available, it won’t be encouraged. The addicts, with no periods in jail to dry out, will die off a lot sooner. Or maybe not, we will probably end up with such a terrible vagrancy problem that we will have to begin clearing the streets of the homeless (which we should have been doing all along.)

  • tom beebe st louis

    Let’s agree that we lost the war on drugs, but also that we lost the war on poverty. Both represent huge failures of dealing with society’s problems through government. Your idea of dealing with drugs through the market, i.e. drug testing for employment, drivers licences et al points the way. As you note, this will exacerbate the condition of the unemployable minority youth. So let us abandon the failed entitlements and establish a sub minimm wage class which could work for third world wages for a limited time and bring those cheap jobs back to the US. the cry for “good jobs” only serves the middle class, educated and having family support. It’s the noisy, dirty, dangerous jobs that are needed for the underclass to find the first rung on the ladder upward.

  • So let’s compromise. Make the initial penalties for drug use a civil one. Segregate it from other records and call it a “D” violation with all records sealed and then destroyed after 3 years without further violations. Prohibit any and all use of the violations for any other purpose than drug enforcement. Start the first fine at $50 and then ramp it up in both money and personal restitution so rich people don’t get a free ride. Could even leave the current laws on the books but apply them only to dealers or habitual users; open to compromise – of course. Should increase the price (the penalty here is really a disguised tax) and reduce the demand. Until you find a way to reduce the demand, I believe the problem is intractable.

  • tom swift

    The two halves of this article seem disjoint.

    The first acknowledges common (and perhaps even completely correct) wisdom – that the “war on drugs” has failed, and has been failing for a long time. As a practical matter, this means that officialdom has no way to control the problem – if a perpetual war isn’t working, lesser measures are not likely to work, either.

    The second half considers ways that laws might regulate drugs, with half-measures (that is, somewhere short of “war”) of various sorts. But the first half acknowledged the failure of the “war” and the extreme unlikelihood that any sort of “half-war” would work either. So these policy prescriptions will almost certainly be failures, too.

    The only honest thing to do is drop the feeble pretense that government is capable of regulating drugs. Period.

    The prescription drug systems is also a failure. Ask a physician sometime about the adulteration of common drugs to make a patient sick if he takes too many pills at one time. Officialdom seems terrified of the idea that somebody somewhere might use medicinal drugs to get some sort of “high”, so it requires that the drugs themselves be modifid to prevent this. The whole thing is grotesque.

    I – and, I suspect, the vast majority of us who survived high school – am uninterested in “highs”, but at my age I’d much prefer that my medications were formulated to maximize medical effectiveness, rather than to advance misguided social nannyism.

    If we really believe that the federal government is, and should be, one of limited and ennumerated powers, we must admit that regulation of drugs is not one of those powers.

  • Archaeopteryx

    It is my claim that what I advocate, simply dropping the drug laws, is the harshest course of all – letting stupid people self destruct if they want to.
    The war on drugs has long been the sort of war that the way to win is to just stop fighting and go home.

  • Big Mike

    “I’m not sure whether you are agreeing or disagreeing with me here. You say you knew heavy drug users in the sixties and seventies who BECAME good parents and so forth. You don’t say that they remained heavy drug users through the decades. I agree that addicts and heavy habitual users can become much better people in every respect once they get their relationships with intoxicating substances in the right place. But until then?”

    I’m disagreeing with you, sir. Smoking marijuana at night after your kid is in bed doesn’t make you a bad person, nor a horrible parent, any more than drinking a glass of wine or two after the rug rats are tucked in for the evening.

    In fact, having lived with an abusive alcoholic for a stepfather, I’d have to say from personal experience that I’d have had a better childhood if I’d had a mellow pot smoker for a parental figure. I certainly would’ve been beaten less often.

    And many of those parents and grandparents I know DO still use drugs like marijuana for recreational and relaxing purposes.

    The problem is not the drug. The drug is just a thing, it cannot be “good” or “evil”. The problem is the level of responsibility of the user. Kind of like the argument we Libertarians use when discussing gun rights: It’s not the gun’s fault someone did something stupid with it. AND we shouldn’t ban guns for everyone simply because idiots might do stupid things with them.

    Liberty comes with the risk of danger and uncertainty, sir, it comes with the possibility that someone will exercise their freedom to fail. Justice is reactionary. People are trying to argue against both of those classically American ideals when they want to punish someone for something they think they MIGHT do in the future, out of some misguided sense of moral superiority and/or fear.

    When the individual who happens to take a drug does something criminal, arrest and punish that person. Don’t ban a substance which God created and called “good”, and forbid supposedly free adults from using it in their own homes in a responsible manner, under the banner of “Making the world a better place”.

    That’s fascist.

  • Dotar Sojat

    OK with me to end the WoD so long as (1) recreational drugs are FDA approved and manufactured byapproved manufacturers, (2)drug rehab programs are funded soley from taxes on the drugs or private charities and not with general revenues (if it’s a “victimless crime”, then my pocketbook is not the victim), (3) no liability for manufacturers of FDA approved recreational drugs (no plaintiff lawyer/attorney general bonanzas), (4) employers may decline to hire drug using individuals (using isan”individual choice”) or may terminate drug impaired employees without liability or other cause, (5) drug impairment is not a disability under the ADA, (6)no FMLA time off to care for drug impaired individuals, (7) rec drugs are sold through approved outlets only, (8) prices are determined by the open market, ….the list could go on, but the bottom line is that the rest of us have no responsibility for drug users other than our owncharitable impulses, and no responsibility whatsoever to pay for their condition.

  • Eric,

    There are a few differences between illegal drugs and illegal aliens. Most notably:

    1) Fifty kilos of cocaine are worth on the order of a million dollars more in the U.S. than in Mexico, whereas a 50-kilogram illegal immigrant is worth perhaps $10,000 more in the U.S. Therefore, smuggling cocaine is about 100 times as profitable as smuggling immigrants, even more so after considering that one can’t pack immigrants quite as tightly as bundles of cocaine.

    2) There are far more people with the money and desire to use illegal drugs than there are with the money and desire to hire illegal aliens.

    3) People who want to use illegal drugs generally believe that they have a right to personal autonomy, including to ingest what they want, and thus are unlikely to obey prohibition laws. In contrast, most nonradicals do not believe that Mexican nationals have a right to enter the U.S. to work, and most employers, even if they thought they could benefit from hiring Mexicans if it were legal, do not believe that they have a right to do so in the face of laws to the contrary. Employers also have a fair amount to lose (i.e., their businesses). For both reasons, employers are far more likely to refrain from what they would want to do (hire illegals) than druggies are to refrain from what they want to do (use drugs), just because doing so is illegal.

  • David Zion

    With a lot of inner city youth out of jail, the unemployment rate in inner cities will skyrocket. Also, those who made their living from selling drugs may turn to other crimes to make a living. These crimes may be less retail oriented and more violent. Recall with the advent of car alarms, car jacking became more common. Also, people are fools to think the government will not get into regulation of drugs. The come up with reasons to regulate CO2 and cartoon characters on fruit loops. Prof. Mead, you make a lot of very interesting points that are probably ignored by most.

  • Stephen J.

    “The drug is just a thing, it cannot be “good” or “evil”. The problem is the level of responsibility of the user.”

    But the problem is that addictive drug use directly destroys the ability of the user to *take* responsibility; “user” is in fact the wrong term, as it implies conscious choice and full control at all points in the process, which is very far from true. This is like arguing that the problem with cystic fibrosis sufferers is simply that they need to breathe deeper.

    And the destruction of that ability to function costs everyone around the addict as well as the addict himself. I would be interested to see how many people in favour of legalizing drugs have actually worked in rehab, or seen a loved one, close friend or family member go through rehab. Making that kind of foolish choice easier, together with simultaneously taking away any social resources to help people recover from it, strikes me as erring unacceptably on the side of cruelty.

  • Esteban

    Education – did not see that word used once in this piece (in the context of how to rationally legalize drugs).
    Mead also infers, like many who somehow appear to have become experts on human physiology, that if drugs are legally available there will be a huge increase in the percentage of the population that abuses them. Facts and research do not support this – if the majority of people were such we would have been a planet of drunks for the last many thousand years.
    He accurately introduces decidedly useful food for thought: the catastrophic human cost both of drugs and the pathetically ineffective “War on Drugs”. Beyond that I see very little compassion or deep thought as to how we move forward in positive useful ways.

  • Eric O’Neill

    How do you suggest testing for impairment while driving, working, etc.? While there are measurable, quantifiable levels for alcohol, there isn’t anything similar for marijuana,or most other drugs. The best we have is qualitative testing, and usually only for metabolites. Currently, in my town, if someone is stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence, there is only one officer whose testimony, based on certification, is accepted for adjudication in drug cases. Are you suggesting that any officer should be allowed to testify to impairment, or are you suggesting that we spend an enormous amount of money to train all patrol officers? If so, where do you recommend the money for training come from?
    Perhaps that might be better, but I foresee huge problems with enforcement, and conferral of near God-like powers on officers.

  • James Kearney

    Walter, a very good post, but one quibble: Why should we test for every drug but alcohol? Wouldn’t an abuser of alcohol screw up my mortgage just as much as an abuser of cocaine?

    This has always been my fundamental problem with drug testing: Blood testing is the most effective way to see if someone is actually high at the workplace, but it is more expensive and is considered more invasive. Instead, we test urine, which is unfair in the sense that the person who smokes marijuana once every few weeks will pop up, but a person could have snorted cocaine a few days before a test and will get off scott free.

  • Danram

    If got news for ya, Walter. People who want to use drugs are going to use them whether they’re legal or not. Prohibition simply doesn’t work. It didn’t work with alcohol in the 1920s and it isn’t working now. All keeping drugs illegal accomplishes is drastically increasing the price, making otherwise law-abiding citizens into crinimals, and enriching the murderous thugs who traffic in them.

    It’s WAAAAAAY past time to admit that the “War on Drugs” has been a total failure.

  • C C

    Let me provide some insite from a long-time cannibus smoker:
    From the time I started till the time I quit, I went from being an out-of-work college student to a fully employed professional. I expreienced the single greatest level of professional and personal success I ever had. I have consistantly been reward by my company due to the excellent employee that I am. All this while smoking daily. I can also confess to being a very bad student and employee before I started smoking.
    Did I ever consider myself to be an abuser of drugs or an addict? No, I didn’t. And quiting was an easy excerzice of just not smoking anymore. Though I cannot say anything definitive about anyone else, I have known enough users and see enough people talk about it to know this much:
    My case is not that unusual.
    Two-thirds of this country has at least tried cannibus, while more than a third have used regularly for long periods of time. Not all of these people can be the bad students, employees, and parents of which you speak.
    Harder drugs will have worse effects, of course, and I myself would never touch them. I also never drank very much, because those were my personal choices. But again, I’ve known people who worked hard, were good students, parents, and generally good people despite the drugs they used. And I’ve known people who destroyed their lives with them. I know a man who used just about any drug you can name, but meth and canaibus most of all. He managed to kick the meth, and canaibus is never a major concern, but it was alcohol that he used when he ruined his life.
    In short, drugs don’t ruin people’s lives. People ruin thier lives, it’s just that many use drugs to do so.
    In addition, we have plenty of real-world examples of how legalization and decrminilization do NOT lead to higher levels of use, harder drugs, and more addicts. Just look at Portugal who decriminlized back in 2006. Use is down, addiction is down, crime is down.
    Would it really be that much different here?
    Even if it is, do those costs outweight the costs of prohibition? I know which side I’m on.

  • Frederick O. Stevens

    A very good article by Mr. Mead. The first honest attempt at recognizing some of the downside to ending the “War on Drugs” I have read in a while. I have a few issues with the article as I am a supporter of the drug war and since his arguments failed to convince me that the downsides have been adequately addressed. Also, I wish to add to the general discussion.

    I don’t think the drug war is a failure. The fact that the drug war did not provide results that people expected or were misled to expect is not the fault of the laws against unlicensed drug use. It is the fault of the people who chose to take illegal drugs and give their money to criminals who have no qualms about exercising extreme violence against anyone they choose. It is the fault of police who treat infractions of the law with unjust partiality and enforce laws in unjust ways. It is the fault of lawyers and politicians who conspire to create and sustain abhorrent legal constructs such as no-knock warrants and refuse to regulate the use of those legal constructs in any satisfactory manner even though they go against the grain of our societies ideals regarding freedom and security. It is the fault of the media personalities and media organizations who consistently misrepresent the situation to the public and assist politicians and lawyers in deliberately misleading the public into false expectations. It is also the fault of countries who refuse to give their people the opportunity and freedom to create businesses that do not ultimately require destructive addiction to drive the sale of their product.

    I submit that a major part of the discomfort with the punishment for illegal drug use is not the punishment itself. It is not the prison sentence and resultant cost to society and the individual that is the biggest problem. It is the fact that after prison the punishment continues in varying degrees forever. Our society, like a bad parent, continues to punish the felon. Depending on the circumstances the punishments may be job restrictions and “rehabilitation” programs and residency restrictions. It should not be forgotten, like alcohol, drugs often impair judgment and as a result drug criminals don’t always get caught for just using illegal drugs, they also get caught for violating some other law and this usually increases the overall penalty. This is not the fault of the drug laws.

    I believe what we are doing now regarding the drug war is working, generally, as well as can be expected. The fact that we have a generation of people who have different views on personal and civic responsibility and self control with regard to drug use (and many other things) is not the fault of the drug laws or the war. It is the fault of the people in that generation.

    The drug war does not inevitably lead to corruption in the bureaucratic machinery built to restrict illegal drug use or, as was stated in the article, “the forces recruited to fight it”. Fear of the people that have no qualms about exercising extreme violence against anyone they choose does that and the desire for large amounts of ill-gotten money does that and the desire to forget pain, trouble, or any sort of discomfort including moral ambiguity as promised by drug use does that. Again, this is not the fault of the laws against illegal drug use or the war.

    I also think it is suspect that illegal drug use does not lead to good workers in general. In my own experience I have seen some alcoholics work better drunk (at detail oriented jobs no less) than when they were sober. Was this because when they were sober they were suffering from withdrawal? Was this because they were self medicating an, as yet, unknown medical problem? Was this because being drunk helped them push other problems out of their mind and allowed them to focus on the job at hand? I do not know. I am not a doctor and to be honest I doubt a doctor could answer those questions with any certainty without much study of the individual in question. Being from the South however I am extremely sensitive to the idea of enslaving through addiction an entire generation of workers and voters. If using drugs makes a person a better worker generally then I believe the problem is generally with the work and not just the worker.

    If a worker can take a drug and continue being productive under horrible working conditions then will the employer seek to change the working conditions or will he simply make the drug highly available? While I believe a capitalist market is the best we have at this time I would not want to rely on the expense of a drug to alleviate bad working conditions. And after seeing the effect large business advocates have on government operation I would also not want to rely on the altruism of government regulators to do so.

    I want to make something clear, the drug war is not just “for the children”. Unless the definition of a child is changed children as a general rule do not take drugs and decide to drive a car at ridiculous speeds through residential areas. Children as a general rule do not take drugs and decide to operate heavy machinery, perform brain surgery, fly planes or make far reaching political, financial or legal decisions. Weak adults do these things and whether the weakness is due to some inherent mental or physical flaw or whether it is due to some temporary mental or physical fatigue is irrelevant. Should the strong, those who can use drugs recreationally without detrimental effect, voluntarily put that freedom aside and restrict themselves to the judgment of a doctor for drug use? I say yes. Will they? The lessons learned by Prohibition seem to indicate otherwise.

    As far as using drug testing as a filter for responsibility, it doesn’t seem to work very well now and I have doubts that more of it would work any better for a larger population. And as far as the criminals go, does anyone think that introducing the competition of legal industry into the manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs will make these people any better, less violent? Will eliminating the criminal revenue stream for drugs reduce the criminal tendency to find other illegal and possibly even more morally reprehensible revenue streams? I have my doubts.

    Make no mistake, every action has unforeseen consequences. I believe the lack of self control by our grandfathers with regard to Prohibition directly resulted in this generations drug war. If we legalize drug use further than we have now we may end up re-fighting long protracted legal battles with companies who want to put cocaine in sugary soft drinks. We may end up fighting political battles with politicians who want to allow drug cartels to enter into the legal drug manufacturing business bringing with them all their learned technique for violent coercion. We may even have more police who act like jack booted thugs reminiscent of the morally crippled soldiers our grandfathers fought so well and with such well-deserved and great credit in WWII. If we retreat again in this war of self control we and succeeding generations will suffer in ways we cannot foresee or imagine. I say this not to invoke a nebulous specter of fear for the future but so people may better understand that war is not easy and while it certainly may require changing tactics and sustained effort beyond expectation, the overall strategy to win should be kept. It may very well be that we have forgotten what winning means. It may be that we did not clearly and realistically define the term before we started fighting but ignoring the problems that lead weak people to try the anesthetic of drug use does not address the root causes. I believe that if we provide people more freedom in all areas of life, not just the freedom to take drugs, that many of the root causes will be reduced to more manageable levels. I also believe that our actions today concerning this matter will gain our generation credit as great as any generation before. The bloody battlefield of Nations need not be the only place where glory is won.

    We can make our judicial system more fair for everyone by eliminating the laws favoring sections of our society. We can make our government less oppressive by implementing a fairer tax code for both rich as well as poor and eliminating bad laws and policies. We can make financial opportunity available to more people by reducing regulation and taxation on small businesses. We can reform our penal systems by making the penal history as private as medical history and reducing prisoner contact with other prisoners. We can reform our educational system by reducing the regulations and restrictions imposed by a bureaucracy that is more interested in its own survival. There is much we can do to address the root causes that tempt people into using drugs. Fair warning though, a discontent public may be able to generate enough democratic movement to change things for the better regarding the issues I mentioned above. Good luck changing things for the better with a drugged and sedated populace.

  • Mike C

    I came to understand that alcohol was as bad for me as any other drug.

    Thank you. But, as per your article: under your proposed system, would we screen for alcohol with the same vigilance we would screen for amphetamines? What is the difference between having a drunk treat my cancer, and a cokehead treat my cancer? (Answer: there is no difference.)

    I’m as small business owner and, if drugs were legalized, I would never go along with testing employees who are obeying the law and showing up to work. Poor attendance, poor work quality, &c. all show up quite obviously whether employees are drug screened or not.

  • While I believe prohibition repeal will see use rates spike, they will settle back to current levels or even less within a short time. But I would accept a doubling of both use and addiction rates to reduce our crime rate by 50% – an outcome that even the FBI reports will occur.

    Consider this: when heroin and other narcotics were readily available at corner drugstores and from the pages of the Sears, Roeback catalog – and we were actually encouraged to consume them – our addiction rate was no greater than it is today.

    Raise your hand if the prohibition of drugs is the reason you’re not out smoking crack or shooting heroin.

  • anon

    How can society possibly handle alcohol addicts if we made alcohol legal?

  • Harold Seneker

    It would be good to sever marijuana from the more dangerous and in particular from the addictive, drugs. It is not addictive, and despite the assertions of the federal government has known medicinal uses. Agreed that it is otherwise not good for you; after all, it is smoked and therefore probably bad for the lungs. But so is tobacco.

    The main rap against it is that it is a “gateway” drug. But one must consider why it is a gateway drug: It is because the stuff is illegal. That puts it in the hands of criminals, who are eager to switch customers over to the hard stuff as quickly as possible.

    There was a really good example several years ago in a town near me. A dealer blew into town and starting selling marijuana to the high-school kids (it is an affluent town as are some others nearby so they had money). It was righteous stuff and the price was good; soon he was the dealer of choice for the local kids. Once he had won their trust, he began lacing the grass with opium; the kids were getting addicted without any idea of what was happening to them or why. He was eventually caught and sent away for a long time, but let us stipulate that this is something we don’t want to happen.

    Legalize marijuana, regulate it along the lines of alcohol and tobacco (you have to be 18, no driving under the influence, warning labels galore, etc.) – and tax it, and use the money to fight hard drugs. That will take the trade away from the criminals, for whom it is a large source of profit as well as a way to draw in customers to whom they can peddle the even more profitable hard stuff.

    Legalizing grass would obviously not solve the overall drug problem, but it would take an enormous bite out of it. Users would not be exposed to prison and having their futures blighted by a felony conviction on their records; criminals would be denied an important source of income and access to potential victims; the social costs of prisons, lost wages and so forth would be saved; a new and socially beneficial sin tax could be levied.

    I do not know what to do about the hard stuff, but let’s at least do this. And the sooner the better.

  • I agree that addicts and heavy habitual users can become much better people in every respect once they get their relationships with intoxicating substances in the right place.

    Ant the right relationship of people in pain to pain relievers is……?

    Why are we in all this trouble? Because some people have in their heads, “Pain from memories of trauma is not real pain.” Which is actually true. For people not in pain.

    And the problem is genetic.

    The NIDA says addiction is a genetic disease:

    Addiction Is A Genetic Disease

    The medical understanding of addiction (People in Chronic Pain Chronically Take Pain Relievers) has NOTHING to do with popular understanding of drugs. Most of our population (including Walter) are victims of DEA propaganda. And we wonder why nothing works to “solve” the problem. How can we fix “addiction” if there is no such thing?

    Typical government program.

  • Why would anyone think a drug addict would be satisfied with prescription regulated heroin? A “predictable dose?” Give me a break! They want to get HIGH, not take medicine to cure an ailment.

    Filling empty pain receptors gives the high. Which is why some people get nothing from drugs. Not enough empty pain receptors.

    So users with a regular supply do not get high. It is only by interrupting that supply that we reinforce drug use with the “rush” that comes with once denied pain relief.

    We couldn’t design a better system for keeping people on drugs.

    Round Pegs In Round Holes

    I see a lot of opinions about drugs in the comments. I have seen very little connection to medical facts. Just lots of popular propaganda. And not one person shouting this propaganda is in the least ashamed for being so ill informed. It is probably a “every one else is just as stupid as I am – how comforting” thing.

    Drug prohibition is probably the longest running government scam in American history. Not even the results of alcohol prohibition inform the drug debate. Because if they did, not one person could call the drug war anything but a stupid inability to learn from IMMEDIATE history.

    Say. Isn’t Mr. Mead supposed to be a historian?

    And please note: ending prohibition will end the problems caused by prohibition. It will not end the “drug problem.” And if people are taking pain relievers to relieve pain what is the problem?

    And I love the “we must keep the drug war going or the criminals will turn on the rest of us” thought that inevitably turns up these days. You should have thought of that before empowering the criminals.

    “Do you support drug prohibition because it finances criminals at home, or because it finances terrorists abroad?”

  • Ah. Drug rehab. One of the bigger scams going.

    How do you get people to quit drugs?

    Cure their pain.

    The focus on drugs is so terminally stupid. And highly profitable given current popular understanding and GOVERNMENT support. Corrupt top to bottom. Which is why it is so hard to stop.

    So do you go to “rehab” to get your pain cured? Don’t be absurd. Currently there is no cure for PTSD. The best that can be done is to give the patients DRUGS to keep them comfortable. Real rehab would be better access to better drugs. We can’t do that because if you are a chronic user you are morally deficient and thus subject to the most draconian of punishments. The Government can take everything you own on hearsay evidence. What happens when they start using the laws on regular folk, not just the Jews?

    A real drug war would strike at the #1 cause of PTSD in America. Child abuse. Can’t touch that. Although a commenter above alluded to it.

    Parallels to the Nazi war on Jews. A review of “Drug Warriors and Their Prey”. How To Put An End To Drug Users

    We have turned dopers into Jews. “You can do anything you want to them. They are inherently evil people.” A theme rampant in these comments. And we wonder why the German people mostly did nothing or supported the regime. It is no different in America.

    People like to hate. They like to join in with popular hate. I propose we hate the Andromeda Galaxy. Until we can give up that sort of thing permanently.

  • Kurmudge

    I see that several of our stoner lobby friends have taken the opportunity to make their points yet again.

    The two practical problems I see with Mr. Mead’s always fascinating and thoughtful approach are 1) privacy issues- just look at how difficult it is to get professional athletes to consent to testing where the overwhelming majority of fans and the public in general believes that is essential to the games; and 2) enforcement will be whittled away by a string of court cases filed by civil liberties advocates. I think that the optimal policy is some combination of WR Mead’s ideas and what we do already. But don’t kid yourself that it will either be easy or without unintended consequences.

  • More death and destruction is caused by the black market than is caused by the drugs themselves. The argument that more people will use legalized drugs is an elitist position that the common man can not be trusted to make such decisions for himself. This country was founded on the opposite idea. And what about the children? Got news for you … they already have access, now. Drug dealers don’t require photo ID’s prior to sale as would legalized drug stores. It’s time we stop shooting ourselves in the foot.

  • Scooter

    It is sad to see young people who will take almost anything just to feel good for little while. When they cannot get relatively safe marijuana, they huff solvents, or find bizarre synthetic marijuana in seedy novelty shops.

    Legalization will prevent these aimless, sad young people from damaging themselves before they have even found a reason to enjoy life.

    If we want to discourage drug use young people need to be given a reason to live with enthusiasm, a way to find self-satisfaction through accomplishments.

    Hopelessness and bad economies lead to hard drugs, not marijuana.

  • King Alexander

    “By dramatically reducing the incarceration rate of young Black men and closing down illegal enterprises (both good things in and of themselves) we will be dramatically exacerbating the problems of unemployment and poverty among a very volatile group of people.”

    I take it the author here is referring to cops and jailers?

  • Jim.

    “(Something tells me that even the hardiest Tea Partiers might see their way to a hefty excise tax on heroin and cocaine.)”

    Only if they forget the smugglers of America’s past… they didn’t smuggle drugs, they smuggled whatever had the highest taxes slapped on it.

    How would this “solution” end up any different than the prescription non-solution you criticize?

    “The sheer variety of available drugs and the hedonism of our popular culture make it unlikely that we can find a simple, practical and clean solution for America’s drug problem.”

    So we unashamedly, urgently, and comprehensively attack “the hedonism of our popular culture”.

    I know you’re skeptical of this approach, but it’s honestly the most workable solution to the problems you presented.

  • newscaper

    I like the mocking term ‘stonertarian’.

    I do think this is the most level headed discussion of a complex issue I’ve read in ages.

    Two practical problems legalization must deal with: 1) once there is big legit money in pot, expect the trial lawyers and revenue hungry legislators to treat it almost *exactly* like tobacco, 2) a real need for better DWI testing tech (and imagine MADD/MASD pushing for ever ridiculosuly lower definitions of intoxication, lie alcohol.

    Another question for the stonertarians: a smart approach to decriminalization would likely have a net positive effect here in the US, but just how would help put Humpty Dumpty’s like Mexico back together again?

  • Henry Miller

    “…it is hard to find good reasons why government should have the right to tell us what chemicals to put in our bloodstreams.”

    That’s the only thing that really matters. Protecting people from the consequences of their own idiocy is not the proper role of government.

  • Xiaoding

    The author wants both to be a parent, make a tough choice, and be loved at the same time.

    We, the people of America, don’t need your parenting. So stuff it.

    We are getting along quite well, without your help.

    If want to end the drug war, then say so…don’t whine about it.

    You seriously need to grow a [something]. There are drugs for that.

  • S P Dudley

    Mr. Mead actually goes down the road less traveled and looks at the actual effects of drug liberalization, none of which are really beneficial. I suspect that if we could that that approach we would have actually tried it long ago.

    I personally prefer Singapore’s approach: get caught with 5 oz or more of cocaine or similar drug, and face a firing squad. Singapore and in fact all of Chinese society suffered the s

  • pfroehlich2004

    “Turning more plagues loose in society seems like a bad idea.”

    This is a common argument which basically claims that increasing the variety of intoxicating drugs available will cause an increase in demand.

    We currently have a partial prohibtion on psychoactive drugs. Alcohol is legal while the rest are banned. Newly legalized drugs may see an increase in use, but this would be due to substitution, as people who previously used only alcohol decided to experiment with other substances. Given that alcohol is far more toxic than most illicit drugs, public health would be largely unaffected.

    For overall demand for intoxicants to actually increase, people who currently abstain from both alcohol and illicit drugs would have to suddenly become drug consumers following legalization. It seems highly improbable that teetotalers would start taking up cocaine simply because it was legal.

  • pfroehlich2004

    Mr Mead, you really ought to acquaint yourself with the realities of heroin assisted treatment before you conclude that it’s a bad idea.

    It has been extraordinarily successful at reducing criminality and disease transmission among addicts. Moreover, there has not been a single overdose death in the entire 17 years since the Swiss introduced this program.

    The fact that HAT has not been adopted by every civilized country is frankly criminal.
    More detailed analysis is available here:

  • PerryM

    We could eliminate the drug problem in 1 day if we wanted. However it would cause mass panic and America has no stomach to fix these problems in reality.

    The police should capture a load of drugs, lace the drugs with designer drugs that will make the end-user violently sick. That would stop all drug cartels in their tracks.

    The cartels would retaliate and poison our food supply as a result and America will buckle to the cartels. This game is already lost.

    What to do then? Make the drugs legal and tax them and make money off the junkies and suppliers – everyone wins………..

  • Mr. Mead, a few observations. You are correct that tight policing of the recreational drugs has not worked, and that it has encouraged Prohibition-scale criminality.

    You are also correct that by legalizing recreational drugs, the problem will not go away.

    Let’s take marijuana. A doctor friend informs me that junkies regularly move between this and the other drugs – and that they see the latter as a step up or down the stronger drugs. If marijuana was legalized, the 1st step towards the stronger drugs would just become a heck of a lot easier. He writes:

    “I think [WRM’s] article turns on this sentence: ‘Turning more plagues loose in society seems like a bad idea — yet we may have reached the point where some form of negotiated ceasefire in the war on drugs is our least bad choice.’

    “…that is the real point of my disagreement (his conclusion, not his premise). I have patients who come in now who think that marijuana is basically okay to use while supposedly detoxing from even harder drugs, opiates, because it is (quasi-) legal.”

    So even if we legalize a relatively safe drug, the result is that more people may use the dangerous ones.

    Additionally, there is the segment of population under 21, who is at great risk: if youngsters does not experiment with drugs by that age, the chance that they will take drugs later on is small. So any campaign to liberalize drugs must be doubled with a renewed and very aggressive education campaign targeted for students of that age.

    Let’s also talk about traditional American politics. You write, Mr. Mead, that a liberal drug policy would be in line with the tradition of individual life choices. While that is true, there’s another tradition which keeps drug policy a state matter. This means that when a state liberalizes one drug or all drugs, then people with addiction will be inclined to move to that state.

    This gives the rest of the states an incentive to keep drug policies stricter. The same pattern has been observed, for example, in the Netherlands: when some towns have opened cafe’s where cannabis can be smoked, then criminality has gone up around the block and the towns eventually rushed to move the cafe’s to more remote areas.

    In short, this means that full legalization of the drugs is not possible on a state by state basis – and by constitution, the Federal Government can’t dictate to states what to do in the matter. We do not have a political infrastructure primed to fully liberalize drug use.

    Then, once drugs are legalized, as you rightly point out, there’s the problem of regulating their use. Leave aside the moral aspect for a second. (Government agencies promoting recreational drug usage? That is going to stink to Heaven.)

    The subtler point is that the illegal drug economy has developed in an informal way, and not necessarily towards safe drug practices. A regulating agency will live by its mission to dictate how the drugs are to be manufactured and employed in the legitimate market – but, of course, every user will want to continue to take drugs the informal way.

    In practice this means that the legitimate drug market will not be a replacement for the existing illegal market – and instead will be its competitor, with higher prices due to an excise tax, selling ‘safe’ drugs that few will care to use. In short – not a recipe to put the illegal drug market out of business.

    Dastardly complicated this drug problem, as you rightly point out. There are no good solutions.

    But what is very frustrating to me is to see how the system evolved very democratically to the disaster we have today. Point blank, if we were ruled, say, by Burebista the Dacian king, the man could decide one day that all wines are to be burned on the stake, and next day the drinking habits of his soldiers would be nipped in the bud. No easy solution for us, now, the moderns.

    Here is where we stand. Put yourself in the shoes of a resident in a well to do suburb, say a lovely historic town in Massachusetts like mine, and assume you have a couple of kids passing through the public school system. If you tried day after day to steer your children out of relationships with troubled friends – or if you saw the statistics showing more than half of the town’s high school students having touched drugs, then you would indeed not be inclined for any liberalization.

    On the other hand, if you lived just south of the Arizona border, and had to deal with the violent armed gangs who shoot police and military conscripts with impunity and who kidnap hundreds of people a year for ransom – if in your local town the nosy reporter is shot, the other journalists resign for fear of their life and if the mayor lives in hiding north of the border, then perhaps you’d think you are getting a raw deal in this democratic world.

    There’s already talk in Mexico that legit economical exchanges with the US are about even, but the exported drugs send billions of dollars of profit down south and shift the trade balance heavily on Mexico’s side. Viva el comercio narco!

    There is also talk that the amounts of drug money ending up in legitimate bank accounts is so large that the banks can’t be aggressively policed, because it would bring the entire US financial system down.

    And who’s fault is it that we got to this point? It’s nobody’s fault. What a fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

  • Jay Chenn

    What an extraordinarily pessimistic point of view. this isn’t realism, it’s despair. I must confess, I believe you’ve missed altogether here. Of course the problem is solvable. Remove the incentives for the poor to live in the inner cities and the will eventually leave. Repeal NAFTA and seal the southern border and the drug cartels will leave. Drive back the illegal immigrants and the displaced youth will eventually take on those jobs, learning responsibility rather than looking to government for a cure.

  • Dr. Jim

    How about repentance and turning back to God and turning away from our foolishness. Drugs are a symptom of the spiritual death of our culture. Jesus saves!

  • RightwingHippyChick

    1. Legality and availability are not the same thing, there is no shortage and everyone who wants to take drugs can trivially get hold of them, drugs have a better delivery network than dairies!

    2. The entrepeneurship shown by young dealers looks impressive, but alas, even though it’s not taxed as such, still less than the minimum wage (see Freakonomics). (most of those people could not run a real business because red tape and taxes makes it too complex). Moreover, the business they run is predatory and does not ‘build’, it takes away opportunity, just like small-time loan sharking does.

    3. Keeping one kind of criminality around because another type of criminality would pop up doesn’t sound like a winning plan for the future. Can I interest you in a cheap wholesale deal for crocodile food?

    4. Dope heads will still be useless even when sober, it’s their nature, the drugs are merely optional props. And when they cannot get hold of drugs they go OCD or do other things in order to get their endorphins flowing, such as selfharm — lots of ‘stoners’ are well out of it despite being stone cold sober.

    5. The war on drugs has cost us conservatives a lot of our most creative youths, it’s a fact that the best young talent likes to get ‘out of it’ (in a controlled fashion) and the left with their everlasting(but of course never fulfilled promise) of ‘we will legalise it’ and the dope fashions they sell have a near monopoly on youth culture.

    But we have no conservative youth culture because we have this huge barrier against ‘naughty kids’, likewise, we have almost no artists, and especially not any young ones, because even if they are conservatives, they have to pretend to be lefties in order to make it.

    This means that the conservatives collect the boring do-gooders and swots of the young cohorts, who then turn into professional politicians who form the current faceless and spineless political class, and the hell-raisers are firmly kept out because they are not ‘good enough’ as they clearly fail at applied sainthood. Winston Churchill would have been a lefty had he been born into the 68 generation…!

  • lonetown

    So with legalization the stoners can all get group therapy at the unemployment office?

  • teapartydoc

    No doctor that wants a reputation as a physician will prescribe these drugs, and it will make no sense whatsoever to have a situation where a drugie can obtain crack or heroin without going to a doctor, while Miss Prim has to make an appointment to renew her overactive bladder medication. The entire system needs to be changed. The FDA needs to be privatized, and all drugs and medications should be available over the counter, and without a prescription, which will still be useful for those wanting to manage their health under a doctor’s direction. The system we have now is a police state run by the government in concert with the medical profession. The medical-industrial complex has made a deal with the devil, and we the people allowed them to do it in exchange for illusory safety and security at the cost of liberty. Like the tax issue, this is a case where it is asinine to compromise.

  • Jon Chambreau

    If society is serious about the problems caused by illegal drugs, and it is not, society would not begin by focusing resources to eliminate supply, but to eliminate demand. Just look at how societal pressure so greatly reduced the use of tobacco, and indeed alcohol. The mindset seems to be that since illegal drugs are, well illegal, that no further demand pressure needs to be brought. If so, then the best argument for making illegal drugs legal is that it will refocus societal pressure.

  • Sizzle

    “Another question for the stonertarians: a smart approach to decriminalization would likely have a net positive effect here in the US, but just how would help put Humpty Dumpty’s like Mexico back together again?”

    No more market in the USA would probably be devastating for Mexico, however, Mexico and the influx of drugs/illegals has been devastating for the USA (Entitlements, healthcare costs, destruction of American culture)

    The problem in Mexico would get significantly worse before it got better. They need it to get worse so they can re-structure, or, we can go with all our troops home from the Mid-East and eradicate the drug cartels in conjunction with the Mexican gov’t. It IS our screw up that ruined their country after all.

    An alternate approach would be to again, legalize, but approach the cartels and offer for them to become legitimate importers/exporters. If they refuse the offer, inform them of their destruction if they fail to do so, then eradicate every last one of them. Why, do you ask, would I go legit and pay taxes on my profits when I can sell it on an artificially inflated black market with 0 dollars in taxes? Simple; I’d rather be alive and selling my wares than feeding a bed of flowers.

    Legalize it all, regulate it, tax it, make sure it is safe for people to consume, and profit from the PEOPLE’S CHOICE.

    Continue the regulations on prescription drugs. I work in a pharmacy, and I’ll be honest, the people on the heavy pain meds are nasty crack head types who almost always abuse their medicine (there ARE exceptions to this, some people have had extenuating things happen like cancer or bad car accidents). The pot-heads buy funyons and arizona iced tea and giggle. They don’t try to steal anything, but the other group I mention always tries to give us fake prescriptions or hold us at gunpoint. There was a recent case in Laconia, NH where a mother and son both OD’ed on Fentanyl patches because they opened them and consumed the insides. Stupid.

    Can’t smoke yourself to death with weed, but you CAN cram enough narcs up your nose/in your veins to kill you 6 times over.

    But, it all comes down to personal choice: if you want to let your life go to ruin and blow 10 lines a day until you max out your account and melt your sinuses, be my guest. That means you won’t be competing for the very limited jobs there will be and I’ll have a MUCH better chance of getting hired, because I don’t fall into the user category.

    Also, just so we are clear, I disagree with the author’s statement that people who smoke weed are not good workers. I know plenty of people who work extremely hard and excel in their positions who like nothing more than to come home at the end of a 15 hour day, light up a doobie after dinner and watch Futurama until they fall asleep.

    Who am I to tell you what to do with your body? Who does the government think they are, telling us what we can do on our property, what we can do to ourselves? If they can do that, they can tell you to do anything else they want, like buy expensive health care. Regulate, tax, and trade the stuff to increase revenue and reduce the burden that petty drug users have on the prison and jail system. Deport the Mexican drug dealers from our prisons to further relieve this problem.

    One thing I have noticed is that people who have had the misfortune of becoming injured are often prescribed heavy pain meds like oxycontin, roxycodone, methadone, Fentanyl/Duragesic, soboxin, you name it. They become HEAVILY addicted and have to go to a clinic to forever receive a supply of these heavy pain meds. THIS is the real problem, not weed. I had a patient come in at 1:30 am from the hospital up the street, and fill a scrip for perc 5-325. at 4 AM, he came back from the same hospital, different E room doc, and had a new prescription for the EXACT SAME THING. He tried to get me to bill it as cash, and not through his insurance. This is illegal because he already got some of this stuff. We told him as such, and when he flipped, we kept the paper script and told him we would have him arrested.

  • Please Grow Up

    You should probably point out, somewhere in your argument, that the opposite has occurred where drugs have been decriminalized. You can certainly make an argument that the US is distinctly different, with a drug culture that couldn’t handle large-scale decriminalization like Portugal, but it’s lazy to not mention what has actually occurred in practice alongside your arguments.

    Also, the argument about a crazy free market that chases new drugs seems a bit out of whack. We’ve already seen two incarnations of that with the original production and experimentation around LSD and other mind-alterers, and again today with the variety of legal marijuana alternatives (K2, Spice, etc.), and legal amphetamine alternatives (“Bath Salts”). I’m really not sure how decriminalization would worsen this issue.

    But sweet job sticking it to those Stoner Utopia guys! You really nailed ’em! Stoners! Heh!

  • Doctor LB Wu

    I have many years of experience (on both sides) of this issue. Yours is the best analysis I’ve seen. I am copying it to a Word doc for reference.
    Also, many of the comments illustate how hard it is to have a rational discussion of this subject.
    Good luck.

  • Dear Sir,
    My mother told me never to call people ugly names and I stick to that.
    Knowing nothing about you makes that easy.
    However, I just would suggest that you too take my mother’s sage advice lest you insult some perfectly nice people who know more about the subject you are writing about than you do.
    Sincerely yours,
    “The Stoner Lobby”

  • I have witnessed this drug war since its inception. I have watched blacks and browns being protrayed as the culprits when in all fairness by the reports I have read most of the people that die from illegal drugs are white.

    The biggest dismanteler of the black community was the civil rights movement. For every job gained in white society three were lost in the black community. If you think i’m all wet, think about the Negro baseball leagues and how they fell apart once J. Robinson broke the color line. I grew up in Hartford, CT and in my neighborhood most of the businesses were black owned. I am not saying that we should not have gone the way we have. Its just that is was poor planning.

    The same applies for the drug war. We just cant legalize drugs and walk away. This underground economy has to be replaced. Each state needs an economic study to determine how much money we are spending on the drug war and reallocate it to programs for treatment, health care, after school programs, etc. etc. By ending the drug war in Connecticut 2-3 billion dollars could be reallocted with taxes from legalization and the closing of prisons. The DRUG WAR IS A BUST.

    This what I envison.

  • I don’t disagree with many of the observations Mr. Mead chooses to make, but I’m surprised that one very important issue has been completely elided: the inevitable rise in demand for disability status and government support for users.

    Mead writes: “Basically, the country would take the position drug use is tolerated but not accepted: that you cannot attend a college, hold a good job, work for the government in any capacity or hold public office if you test positive for certain drugs.”

    Yes, and what will happen then? Users will demand, and receive, government benefits, inevitably including subsidies for their substances and subsidized healthcare on the grounds that they are unable to provide these things themselves because they are unemployable. Think they won’t? Of course they will. And a huge activist class, freed from one portion of their eternal pursuit of emptying the prisons, will turn their attentions entirely to securing this funding.

    Tort and employment lawyers rejoice.

    This is why, no matter what one thinks of the underlying ethics, libertarian arguments for legalization as an increase in personal freedom strike me as patently absurd. What you are legalizing is the right of other people to demand that you subsidize their parties. There is a 100% chance of that happening: it is the outcome in California and in every European country that has legalized drugs. Whether or not the substances themselves are subsidized, the users other needs are met by taxpayers.

    This is a subject legalization activists simply refuse to confront, yet it may be the single most important issue in determining what legalization will actually look like in America.

    As Mead observes, in places where intergenerational social breakdown is arguably complete, legalization will do nothing to stop the culture of violence. It will do nothing because the ugly truth there is that government subsidy is already the thing that frees the underclasses from needing to support themselves and thus subsidizes demonstrations and perpetuation of dysfunction.

    That is the future under legalization: more widespread government dependency and bigger tax bills to subsidize drug users. Any other option is utterly unlikely to quell drug-related crime and would be politically impossible, anyway.

  • Jerry Epstein

    We are all drug users. We have normally used at least two of the three drugs that account for almost all drug abuse and addiction. The drugs are alcohol (18.7 million), marijuana (4.3 million) and pain pills (1.9 million).

    Abut half of all the rest is in combination with (comorbid) alcohol abuse and addiction, much more in the case of cocaine.

    The reason that 93 percent of us over age 25 are not abusers or addicts and never will be is not because we can’t afford or find drugs. Obviously these drugs are potentially addictive even though marijuana abuse and addiction is less likely and has less serious consequences.

    These figures from 2009 have repeated for years with only minor variations.


    And the reasons they have a problem mostly date back to birth, including genetics and childhood abuse.

    Why we go bananas about the drug choices beyond the big three – which involve way less than one percent of us – is beyond me. An alcohol addict is generally as bad off as any other addict.

    The drugs are inevitable, Addicts don’t care about laws. We have one simple choice, “with or without.” Prohibition is the “with cartels and drug dealers choice. I prefer we have the drugs without them.

    It would also be nice if more people knew the facts.

    There’s a brief primer at
    Drug Use, Abuse and Dependence (Addiction) In America

  • JLK

    Dr Mead

    As any decent economist will tell you it all starts with DEMAND. Supply is a reaction to demand so trying to interdict supply while leaving demand in place is the classic cart before the horse syndrome.

    No matter what a powerful institution (like the US govt) if there is demand supply will get thru. If the govt finds a way to reduce supply prices go up and the suppliers will have that much more capital with which to create new and different ways of supplying those who demand the drug.

    So what is the answer? Same as cigarettes. You change the perception of drug use so peer pressure turns from encouragement to disgust. Setting up giant rehab organizations can help but what is really needed is for people to change the optics.

    Put together a committee of people that really know how to build and manage such a program using psychologists, chemists, lots of intelligent former users (preferably professionals who know both sides of the street)….and forget about the bigwigs at that point. That is really the cart before the horse since they have no clue as to how to create effective policies. That is why we have had the useless “War on Drugs” for so long.

    The movers and shakers are only useful in convincing govts to provide the resources to establish programs that have been thought out and are ready to be implemented.

  • illhunter

    Here is the liberals “Sophies’ Choice” If we let them take drugs, they’ll die, if we don’t let take drugs, they’ll hurt.
    Never mind that they espouse creationism is wrong and that evolution is right, they want to save the week willed, the abused, the losers who seek escape. But it kills them, just the way Darwin said.

  • Anthony

    War on drugs has been a dismal social waste. That is, capital surplus absorbed by government and used to wage war on drugs has not achieved hoped for outcome as implied by WRM. Now, can general public in quest for dispensable diversion via drugs reasonably expect its government – local, state, federal – to protect/regulate drug seekers/users from economic entrepreneurs (legal/illegal) facilitated by the imperatives of capitalism as comprised by U.S. politico-ecomics system? In other words, will the profit motives and drives of acquistive minded participants in drug trade maintain conditions exploitable of large sections of U.S. populace inconveniently unable to make choices in its own interest – just drifting with the tide, trusting to its own feelings and the drugs, while others gather in the hay ($$$)?

    I know, nobody is twisting the arms of this available populace to make it susceptible. Yet, the objective role of democracy at minimum must be to protect itself from unreasonable (catastrophic human costs) citizen choices via recalibration of social conditions premised by dilemma. So, the aforementioned question has relevancy.

  • Toni in Texas

    What’s the difference between WRM and an urban youth lost to the penal system? WRM himself says: His parents had the wherewithal to “hand round suitable amounts of money” so that he “was able to plead guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct and go about my business.”

    What stumps me is why WRM thinks there is any other difference between them.

    Contrast his statements. He says about himself, “I soon realized that I had to make the choice between indulging in drugs or wrecking my life,” and he saw the results when “Some of my friends made different choices.”

    Then he says about urban youth, “By dramatically reducing the incarceration rate of young Black men and closing down illegal enterprises…we will be dramatically exacerbating the problems of unemployment and poverty among a very volatile group of people. It is not entirely clear to me that the result of these two changes will be a fall in the crime rate and an outbreak of social peace.”

    Why does WRM believe that urban youth, facing the decision he faced, will make the bad choice?

    Does he think a history of racism has made “young Black men” too stupid to make the same choice he did? Does he think inner city conditions automatically deprive these “very volatile” youths of good sense and render them incapable of making good choices, so that they’ll go on a crime spree?

    If a Republican were saying these things, true Blue liberals would accuse him of racism. Why isn’t it racism when true Blue liberals say it? No matter how sympathetically they say it.

    I imagine that if, in this hypothetical legal-drugs future, a crime spree did occur, tender-hearted true Blue liberals would say, “Aww, of *course* you feel despair and feel you have to Act Up!” Whereupon those “young Black men” will feel justified in Acting Up, and they still won’t have the future that a solid job provides.

  • aprof

    I really don’t see from where Mead concludes that we’d have drug testing to attend college, have a job, etc.

    Almost all of his arguments there would apply equally to alcohol and drunkenness, and yet you don’t see very many workplaces where someone must pass a breathalyzer test before being allowed to work. Much less do you see businesses firing workers because they sometimes get drunk while not on duty. I don’t believe your auto insurance rates are affected by non-vehicle related alcohol convictions (e.g., public drunkness). What’s the logic behind that odd set of predictions?

  • Pat

    Citations needed. Until then I will file this under other similar Hypotheses of [contemptible] Origin.

  • Rogozhin

    Most Americans seem unaware that virtually ALL illicit drugs were legal in the U.S. prior to 1914 (google “Harrison Narcotics Act” if you want details). Historically legalization is the norm and prohibition is the anomaly. Somehow society survived for centuries without everyone becoming addicts, quitting their jobs and dropping dead from overdoses. How could that be?

    Most of the harm associated with “hard” drugs today is the direct result of prohibition. In 19th century England, opium was legally available from pharmacies, cheaper than beer, and of consistent purity and potency. As a result you had productive citizens like Thomas De Quincey, a lifelong opium user and published writer who lived to be 74 years old. These days users die from overdoses due to impurities and unpredictable potency on the street, much like those unfortunates who were blinded or killed after accidentally ingesting methylated spirits in bathtub gin during alcohol prohibition.

    The supposed “low work ethic” of modern drug users is largely due to social ostracism and the consequences of prohibition. Good luck getting a decent job with a drug conviction on your record, even for simple possession. Moreover there are plenty of gainfully employed and productive drug users in our society, but you’d never know it due to the veil of silence enforced by prohibition. For every high-profile drug flameout that gets wall-to-wall media coverage (c.f. Charlie Sheen) there are likely dozens of silent users leading productive lives that nobody ever hears about.

    If legalization would lead to ubiquitous drug testing, why don’t we see ubiquitous alcohol testing right now? The argument doesn’t hold up. But at least Mead is attempting to think through the consequences of legalization instead of regurgitating the same false platitudes we’ve come to expect from commentators, and for that he should be commended. If only he would extend his noble questioning of assumptions to his lazy stereotypes of drug users, he might actually come up with a workable drug policy. Here’s hoping.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Opium was legal in 19th century China and the social effects were widely seen as devastating. The association of drug use with risky sexual behavior and the spread of disease is also not controversial. A number of drugs are more physically addictive than alcohol; legality will not change their effects as much as one might hope.

  • Mr. Rogozhin is simply wrong about public reactions to drug use prior to World War I. In places where drugs were widely available — both available and affordable to more than a few people — there were numerous crises and campaigns tantamount to modern prohibition. The poorhouse is just one historical equivalent to today’s city jail. Laws were passed and other social and life-or-death-economic pressures were brought to bear regarding substance abuse throughout history. And prior to the twentieth century, those economic and social pressures operated as only law does today, so to say that only written law matters in this discussion is inaccurate. Take a look at the turn-of-the century British Journal of Inebriety, at the various prohibitions on alcohol and substance abuse among utopian socialists in the mid 19th Century, and so on.

    Transhistorical arguments are apples and oranges.

    Today, we no longer live in a world where most people perform agricultural work, or starve. Nor do we live in an early industrial world where people must conform to certain personal habits and time-consuming labor, or lose their jobs and starve.

    Mr. Rogozhin also wrong about the ubiquity of alcohol testing: people who show up for work with alcohol on their breaths are sent for alcohol testing; some industries require routine alcohol testing, and DUI checks are nothing if not ubiquitous.

    De Quincey lived a miserable life of chronic illness, addiction, self-imposed privation, and failure to live up to his significant early promise. He was rescued on several occasions only through inheritance and inherited status. What any of that has to do with the contemporary subject of legalization is unclear. However, the (slightly) implied comparison to Charlie Sheen is thought provoking.

  • Craig

    I think the author would do well to look at the experiences, pretty uniformly positive, of countries which have moved in the direction of regulated drug markets: Portugal, Switzerland, Netherlands, etc. He just hasn’t done his homework and just about the last thing this topic needs is another long, under-researched opinion piece.

    Start here:

  • Rogozhin

    The history of opium use in China is long and complicated. The Opium Wars of the 19th century are a good example of how drugs are often used as a tool in larger political and geopolitical struggles. Chinese immigrants subsequently brought their opium use with them to the West coast of the U.S., leading to some of the moral panics and attempts at prohibition alluded to by Ms. Trent. Similarly, the moral panic over marijuana in the early 20th century was largely caused by fear and prejudice of the Mexican immigrants who tended to use it during that period. Racism, ignorance, xenophobic paranoia and prohibition seem to go hand in hand.

    Regarding the supposed link between drug use and risky sexual behavior — does any currently illegal drug even come close to alcohol as a sexual disinhibitor? Cocaine use often causes impotence, and opiates tend to make their users forget all about sex. Different drugs have different effects, and also affect different people differently.

    Not sure where the association of drugs with the “spread of disease” comes from, with the sole exception of intravenous drugs (which only spread disease due to the unavailability of clean syringes, caused by, once again, prohibition). How would cocaine or marijuana use be a vector for disease transmission?

    Among drugs “more physically addictive than alcohol,” nicotene ranks first according to former U.S. surgeon general C. Everett Koop, who famously stated that nicotine is more addictive than even heroin. Yet smokers as a whole are neither unproductive workers nor poor students (despite their current demonization in our society).

    Alcohol testing of persons showing signs of intoxication at work or while driving is hardly the same thing as the ubiquitous prior-restrait testing contemplated in the original post. The former is logical and sensible (and economically feasable); the latter is decidedly not.

    I agree that transhistorical arguments are imperfect, but some historical context can be useful when certain policies are erroneously regarded as fixed and unchanging. The conventional wisdom on legalization is based on a short-sited, ahistorical view of prohibition.

    The example of De Quincey was only to demonstate that it’s possible, in a society where drug use is tolerated, for individuals to use drugs while remaining productive members of society. Whatever personal failings De Quincey suffered from do not detract from this basic point, in my view.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post and comments. I have enjoyed this discussion.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Surely the horrible experience of China with opium in the 19th century is relevant?

  • Rogozhin

    It’s my understanding that the evidence of “devastating” social effects of opium in 19th century China are largely anecdotal, or in many cases outright manufactured for political (authoritarian) or religious (missionary) reasons. If hard data exists showing that opium use caused decreased overall productivity or citizenship during this period, I have not yet seen it. If you have an unbiased online source in mind I would be interested in taking a look.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Shockingly, 19th century China did not keep good public health statistics. The only available evidence is anecdotal; you can ignore it if you like but few Chinese have ever wanted to go back to Qing dynasty drug policies.

  • Rogozhin

    In that case we would do better to look at modern countries where decriminalization has been tried and hard statistics are available. The link Craig posted in comment #88 looks like a very good place to start.

  • wideeyedradical

    To find the answers follow the money trail my dad taught me. Who’s to suffer from drug legalization? Cops,wardens,corrections officers, judges, and the like. ATF will have plenty left to deal with. I say legalize them all and treat them all, or at least the ‘hard’ drugs, as medications. Meaning whereever they are sold lock them up!! Keep them in the pharmacies or something. All of these drugs with few exception were legal not all that long ago. And guess what? THE WORLD DIDN’T END!! Like alcohol make a minumum age of purchase/use. Addicts and abusers will appear on tv after they die from their problems and we can all point and say ‘see what happens kids’. Its not a problem of this stuff becoming available. Make no mistake it is available. You’d probably cry to know how many drugs are in the average middle/high school on any given day. The problem is with exercising self control. Some people will make it look bad for the rest of the ‘users’. Is this not a problem which already exists in the form of alcohol? As a closing side note I’d like to point out that at least some of these ‘drugs’ have good properties and uses. Examples being marijuana(obvious), cocaine, heroin used to be given to outpatients for [crying out loud]. BTW Salvia, though legal, has much more potential for harm than say smoking a joint. ENDRANT

  • Paul Jones

    Mr. Mead, I find it ironic that you so often make rhetorical gestures in directions which point outside our narrow, Western, postwar context, while your mental horizons seem limited to the objects viewable from within that context.

    On this topic, it is sufficient to say that there have always been, and will always be, intoxicants. While individuals with particular character traits find no insurmountable difficulty in using them responsibly — as long as they are reasonably fully aware of their effects — there will always be some people who overindulge and destroy themselves. This was as true of Sultan Selim the Sot as it was of winos on Skid Row. If the proportion of such people in the population is high enough to impair the life of the society — as in Russia, or the American inner city, or (really) the postmodern West — we must not ask about the intoxicants, but about the culture which is incapable of handling them.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      True — but that seems to reinforce my point that decriminalization in the United States is likely to be messy and in some ways unhappy.

  • So many of these comments, while well-intentioned, are the result of poor understanding and/or decades of propaganda – including those of Mr. Mead. How any thinking person can believe replacing prohibition with a regulated and controlled market will make matters worse is simply silly.

  • I agree that addicts and heavy habitual users can become much better people in every respect once they get their relationships with intoxicating substances in the right place.

    They are only intoxicating to people in pain. Which is why so few people who try heroin ever become regular users. Not enough pain to make the experience worthwhile.

    As I have said so often. When regular folk know as much about addiction as doctors do the drug war will be over.

    Sadly so much commentary here is so ignorant of what doctors know. And that includes you Walter. Why not do some medical research before spouting off Government Propaganda?

    So let me try again with What Doctors Know:

    A well known secret

    It is not those in pain who have a bad relationship with drugs. It is ignorant supporters of government drug policy who have the problem.

  • Ah. Opium. Now supplanted by heroin. Which is what happens in prohibition regimes. You get stronger drugs. Coca wine and tea is replaced by powdered cocaine.

    And another point: American alcohol used declined greatly as life conditions improved in America. see 1790 vs 1990.

    So to say opium was a problem in China may only be a way of saying that the China of that era was a horrible place to live.

    We saw that in ‘Nam. Addiction rates (to heroin) were running on the order of 50% for returning troops. It scared Nixon so much that he instituted the methadone program. And yet within a year of returning most vets quit. Without a government program. Why? Well for one there was no significant shooting war going on in America vs ‘Nam.

    Again – Walter – please consult doctors and read your history (are you really a History Prof.?) before spouting off.

  • Productive heroin users? Look up the founder of modern surgery. Halsted. I believe the longest street in Chicago is named after him. And we have one in Rockford, too.

    The longest street in Chicago is named after a heroin addict. He. He. He.

    You might also wish to look up the work of Dr. Robert Marks in England/Wales. You make heroin available and according to the POLICE use goes down. The Drug War is a vector for spreading drug use – not combating it.

  • I know, nobody is twisting the arms of this available populace to make it susceptible…

    Not strictly true. We have an epidemic of child abuse leading to an epidemic of drug use. Here is an article that makes the case explicitly for heroin and women:


    A lot (depending on genetics) of sexually abused women turn to heroin. Why don’t we see a campaign to reduce this? I think you can answer that question by asking another: “What is in it for the Drug Warriors?”

  • Repeal NAFTA and seal the southern border and the drug cartels will leave.

    Nope. They will just bribe (corrupt) more border agents. Prohibition is just the thing for corrupting law enforcement. See Prohibition, Alcohol.

    The demand reduction people get it. Except for one thing:

    People in chronic pain chronically take pain relievers.

    PTSD mostly. Which is not “real pain” according to many. Real or not those are the folks taking drugs. Mostly.

    So where are the pain reduction cadres?

  • From what I’ve read, places like the Netherlands have not had much success with drug legalization.

    Demand has been legalized. Supply has not. That is the crux of the Dutch Problem.

  • But the problem is that addictive drug use directly destroys the ability of the user to *take* responsibility; “user” is in fact the wrong term, as it implies conscious choice and full control at all points in the process, which is very far from true.

    Tobacco is more addictive than heroin.


  • ‘Turning more plagues loose in society seems like a bad idea — yet we may have reached the point where some form of negotiated ceasefire in the war on drugs is our least bad choice.’

    The “plague” is already loose. The question now is would we prefer to deal with a drug problem or a drug + criminal gang problem?

  • Here are some actual facts from a drug trial. For the ignorant Dr. in the above thread:

    If You Don’t Quit Harming Yourself We Will Punish You

    I am a consultant psychiatrist in Widnes, northern England and prescribe hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Ironically I may not prescribe hasheesh, nor opium nor coca. This is like being able to prescribe cognac but not wine. Nevertheless this policy has eliminated drug deaths, there is no H.I.V. infection, and a police study of our program shows a 15-fold fall in drug-related acquisitive crime. Most interestingly, the incidence of addiction has fallen 12-fold.

  • Redmond

    Seriously? China is the only example you can bring forth? Cocaine, heroin and opium were legal throughout the west – you did not see society destroyed.

    China was also forced to accept opium by the British, who had industrial scale production going in India at the time.

    Check out the “Opium Wars”

  • Sean Savarese

    The “War on Drugs” approaches a near pinnacle of perfection with regards to stupidity, foul hypocrisy of the first order and immorality (that’s right…the Drug War, NOT drug use, is the real moral travesty) that has ever visited human kind in any shape, way or form. This is so, primarily, because of the very insidious, and oftentimes incredibly subtle, ripple effects that traverse EVERY aspect of our government, economy and society as a whole. It is like a cancer devouring the whole without conscious awareness: that is, until it’s too late.
    What is the PRIMARY reason cannabis , opiates (at least without a prescription), cocaine, etc are illegal? Discrimination and an attempt, made during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to be on a “moral” footing with Victorian Great Britain; the primary power and sovereign of the day (even though the Queen herself indulged in our modern controlled substances, particularly opiate derivatives!), and NOT, as many erroneously believe, the result of some well thought out and scientifically derived conclusions. “Coke-crazed” blacks in the south motivated that particular drugs inclusion in the Harrison Act (although caffeine was a close second!), Chinese immigrants in San Francisco trying to “enslave” white women in their nefarious opium dens, and then, of course, the “barbaric” inhabitant’s of the America’s Marijuana (tobacco’s okay though for of course snuff, pipes, cigars, etc. were used nearly everywhere both in and out of government!).
    Then, of course, we have the all pervasive U.N. Single Convention which binds UN member nations to abide by America’s drug policy. (Yes people! That is why morphine, cocaine, marijuana, etc. is illegal in many nations…NOT because they each discovered that, although alcohol and nicotine aren’t the best of things, at least there’re not the insidious “drugs” that the U.S. so sagaciously identified! Incredibly enough, people do not realize this ALL important fact of history which has served to spread our contagion worldwide.) Henry Cabot lodged summed up this pitiful ignorance and blatant discrimination very well when he stated, in so many words, that alcohol and other intoxicants should not be sold to undisciplined and inferior races. What a God awful shame! When I contemplate the sickening and utterly disgraceful conduct of our nation’s leaders over the past one hundred years on this head, and the complicity of the body politic at large–as painful as it is for me to admit–I am, in all honesty, truly ashamed of my nation; when I compare and contrast the brilliance and foresight of our founders with the bigots and imbeciles of today and the early twentieth century who have, in short: 1) helped to fuel the most noisome corruption among government officials 2) opened a ready black market to cartels and ruthless criminals which puts each and every one of us in peril on the streets and in our homes 3) put money into the hands of terrorists bent on bringing the U.S. to it’s knee’s 4) completely decimated entire households with outrageous sentences for personal possession of a COMPLETELY arbitrarily denominated “controlled substance” 5) incited carnage across the borders (most notably Mexico of late, but certainly not confined to that travesty-of-a-nation as a result of America’s Drug War) 6) created an atmosphere where a lot of hard-working and productive citizens HAVE to resort to a life of crime to fulfill their biochemical dependence which, according to leading medical authorities and the AMA itself decades back, is a psycho-physiological DISEASE (how would one judge a society that incarcerated and ruined the lives of diabetics for “shooting up” insulin?) 7) turned our “Republic” into a Gestapo force (i.e. the DEA) which has assumed authority which contravenes every precept and intention of our constitution, and, in VERY short 8) been complicit in opening a Pandora’s Box full of the most disgusting, abominable and immoral conditions to metastasize like an inexorable growth upon our very society with a brain-washed populace born and bred to believe one version (the wrong one), a biased and complicit media, and cowardly and dishonorable politicians all along not questioning the very paragon of hypocrisy–I cannot, in good conscience, remain silent anymore on this issue.
    If we don’t wake up soon people, and I mean VERY soon, so help us God, we WILL most surely feel the certain wrath of this evil and bigoted policy implementation that has been in existence for so many decades and all along with our unthinking support of it in such a way as this country has never experienced in its history. It’s a hydra that has too firm a control on nearly every major aspect of our society (albeit, once again, insidiously) for the dictates of reason and human experience to deny. If people do not take action NOW in DEMANDING the IMMEDIATE cessation to this horrid and nightmarish abomination of moral, constitutional and civil law, we will have deserved–each and every one of us–every bit of anguish and societal destruction we deserve. For Heaven’s sake people: WAKE UP and help me in this noble and moral quest to end this sickening and disgusting blemish on this nations history. We CAN do better, and the blood of millions of our forefathers to bring this nation into existence and defend it’s integrity and her citizens, demands our action now…without a moments delay.

    Sean K. Savarese

  • Bosco

    In response7.Lee Reynolds says:
    “July 11, 2011 at 10:11 am
    Legalize everything. Sell everything in state-run stores. But to each and every drug add a substance that, if consumed over a period of time, causes permanent and irreversible sterility in both men and women.

    The real problem with drugs is not that they ruin lives and often kill their users, but that they don’t work quickly enough to remove the trash from our gene pool before they reproduce. ”

    Hitler woulda loved you! Your open hostility to others reeks of a very inadequate personality and your ever so small minded thinking and hatred for others is overwhelming. People like you are dangerous to Liberty and are far more scary then ANY drug user could ever be to me .By promoting social genocide. You’re a sick disgusting human being that claims to want to want a free society you don’t even know the concept of freedom and liberty but want it only on your terms and if one doesn’t agree to your terms they should be eradicated . You’re a prime example of a knee jerk idiot!

  • charles kado

    I really don’t see you being qualified to write this article. You obviously know little of drug culture. The long and short of this is if a drug user can obtain their drug of choice relatively easily and inexpensively, that closes the door on most crime; no illicit transacations, no quality problems. The problem is the crime, not the drugs. Anyone who wants to use can, its the harm done in the process we need to avoid. This way people are not accidentally killing themselves because of insufficient instruction i.e. improper needle use, smoking methods. Things will change more effortlessly than you think. The real problem will be what to do with unemployed and broke drug dealers.

  • anon

    @Stephen J,

    You have failed to take in account that the low functioning status of addicts is a result of prohibition. The founder of modern surgery was a life-long injecting morphine addict, why was he such a successful guy?

  • The Tightwire Guy

    “One should also note that the collapse of the illegal drug business is going to destroy the one industry in this country which gives low income, uneducated inner city youth significant opportunities.”

    Mr. Mead,

    Are you seriously suggesting that a benefit of the War on Drugs is that it provides economic stimulus to the inner city? Have you ever considered that the appeal of easy money to inner city youths of joining the gang-controlled drug business contributes to (a) the destruction of families when those youths join those gangs, (b) forego developing their formal education skills that would be helpful for them to find employment outside of the drug trade, and (c) devastates families whose members join such gangs most likely end up dead or serving long prison sentences, where they get “advanced educations” in other criminal pursuits?

    “By dramatically reducing the incarceration rate of young Black men… we will be dramatically exacerbating the problems of unemployment and poverty among a very volatile group of people.”

    So what you are saying is that the greater non-urban society SHOULD keep encouraging urban Black men to join the drug trade (or simply get pinched for drug possession) so that our country’s ever-expanding prison system can house them away from the rest of us AND keep the official unemployment rate low for political public consumption? If that is an implicit objective of the War of Drugs, why not just decriminalize drugs so that the good (less poor) folks in suburban and rural America don’t have to worry about going through the hassle of arranging for “suitable amounts of money [to be] handed round [so that they can] plead guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct and go about [their] business”, and get a law passed that uses a lottery system to send every 1 out of 3 or 4 “young Black men” to prison for long sentences to achieve this affect? It would save our legal system and police departments a LOT of money to avoid the charade of using the War on Drugs to advance such a blatantly racist policy.

    Or simply admit that you, like too many of my fellow non-Black Americans (I am of European heritage) can’t see beyond your irrational racist fear of Blacks. Why else would you be sanctioning the prejudicially high incarceration of “young Black men” in the War on Drugs as a solution to unemployment among the urban/Black communities? Heck! Perhaps you are suggesting that their families should thank non-Blacks for supporting the War on Drugs given how it helps to reduce unemployment in the Black community? Oh, did we forget to mention how it also provides many of them with free housing courtesy of our nation’s prison system? Yeah! Those “volatile” folks should be overjoyed that we non-Blacks are so magnanimous them folk! Yessiree, Bob!

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