Paul R. Hollrah
The Drug War is Lost
Each year for the past forty years our presidents have asked for more
and more money to fight the War on Drugs. The Congress has dutifully
complied and when each of the last seven presidents left office they’ve
left behind a far worse drug problem than when they began. So if it is
true that "insanity” can be defined as making the same mistake over and
over again, always expecting a different outcome, then our decades-long
battle against drugs has been truly insane.
Barack Obama now resides in the White House and if there’s one thing we
know about him it is that he is a single-solution guy, and he is
consistent. Just as he expects to fix the failed public education system
by throwing more money at it, and just as he can be expected to
prosecute the "Overseas Contingency Operation” (the former War on
Terror) by throwing money at terror-sponsoring Islamic states, he can be
expected to attack the drug problem in the same way.
On her recent trip to Mexico, in what historians may one day refer to as
the Obama-Clinton "mea culpa” round of diplomacy (see also Obama’s
"America is arrogant” speech in Strasbourg), Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton couldn’t seem to repeat often enough the notion that the
American people are to blame for Mexico’s drug wars because it is we who
create the demand for drugs. She didn’t go so far as to say that Obama
had authorized her to grant absolution to the drug cartels, but she did
imply that it is we who make them do what they do.
But therein lies the heart of the problem. For decades we’ve been
fighting the drug war on the wrong front, never stopping to assess the
enemy’s principal strengths and weaknesses. So what has caused
administration after administration to aim their guns in the wrong
direction? Quite simply, it is the seriously mistaken belief that our
illegal drug problem is largely demand driven. It is not. The drug
problem is as much supply driven as it is demand driven and we can deal
with it in one of two ways. We can either adopt the Singapore model or
we can legalize drugs. Either alternative would be equally effective.
The Singapore model is simple and straightforward. Under Singapore law,
persons aged 18 or over who are convicted of carrying more than 15 grams
of heroin face mandatory death by hanging. The death penalty also
applies for smuggling more than 500 grams of marijuana or 250 grams of
methamphetamine. Smuggling "designer drugs” such as ecstasy can result
in a 30-year jail sentence and/or 15 strokes of the rattan cane (that
rattan cane must be a really unpleasant experience), while the mere
possession and use of marijuana can lead to a 10-year jail term and a
fine of $17,000.
But is it possible that American liberals would ever agree to such harsh
penalties? Not likely. They may be willing to kill a few million late
term babies, but to stretch the necks of ten or twenty drug smugglers?
Never! Nor could they be expected to favor execution by lethal
injection, a solution that would appear to make the punishment truly fit
Our only real alternative... the only possible way of controlling the
traffic that now threatens to turn Mexico into the North American
equivalent of Somalia... is legalization, in combination with the
Singapore model minus the death penalty. Short of that, we should not be
surprised to see additional tens of millions of Mexicans fleeing north
across the border one day soon, creating a humanitarian catastrophe in
the desert southwest that could easily dwarf the Rwandan genocide of the
Our drug problem grows and grows because the supply is there and
producers demand that it be sold. Drug dealers give drugs to those who
are inexperienced but willing to give it a try, they continue the
process until their targets are "hooked,” and when the newly addicted
lack the resources to support their drug habit they either turn to a
life of crime or they become dealers themselves. Our prisons are filled
with men and women who have followed that exact path.
So why would anyone risk the terrible consequences of drug peddling –
loss of freedom, perhaps even death? Quite simply, it is the opportunity
for immense profits. Hence, the answer to the drug problem cannot be
found in more cops on the street, more prisons, bigger and better
interdiction programs, or mandatory prison sentences. Clearly and
simply, the answer is to take the PROFIT out of drugs. The immense
profits earned by the drug cartels are both their major strength and
their major weakness.
It is an absolute certainty that, if we were to take the profit out of
pantyhose and peanut butter, it wouldn’t be long before we’d be without
dripping obstructions in our shower stalls and kids would be munching on
plain old jelly sandwiches. And with a Democrat in the White House and
strong Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, there could be
no better time to attack the profits of the drug trade.
With legalization the state would simply give away the tons of illicit
drugs seized in anti-drug operations and stored in warehouses across the
country. And once users have been identified by obtaining their daily
allotments from local physicians, pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics,
the addicted can be assigned to mandatory treatment programs. The street
market for drugs would quickly dry up and the level of violence along
the Mexican border would return to normal.
But while liberals and libertarians may readily agree with the concept
of legalization, it is conservatives who will require additional
convincing. Although legalization is not an overly complicated concept,
conservatives are likely to have a strong knee-jerk reaction. While they
embrace without question the virtue of market forces where other
products and commodities are concerned, they will not be quick to see
the economics of drugs in the same light.
In complete disagreement with the late William F. Buckley, a principal
proponent of drug legalization, conservatives can be expected to argue
that legalization will expand, not shrink, the number of addicted...
apparently under the cockeyed theory that tens of millions of
self-destructive non-users are just standing around, waiting to turn
themselves into brain-dead vegetables. Conservatives will tend to deny
the simple economic reality that, with legalization and rehabilitation,
the street market for drugs will go into steep decline.
What is needed is a tightly managed legalization (rationing) program to
dry up the street market, a comprehensive drug treatment program for
those requiring rehabilitation, and tough Singapore-style criminal
penalties, minus the death penalty, for those found in possession of
quantities of hard drugs and "designer” drugs. The use and possession of
marijuana should be handled with the same penalties and restrictions now
applied to the consumption of alcohol.
But can we expect our political leaders to ever find the courage to
attack the problem from that perspective? Probably not. To do so would
require a level of courage and creative thinking that has not been,
heretofore, the hallmark of government policy-making... either at the
state or the federal level. That being the case, we might want to take a
longer than usual look at our children and grandchildren as we tuck them
into their beds each night. Then, as we turn out the lights and tiptoe
quietly out the door, we need to fix that picture in our minds because
the time may come when we will cherish it.
Unless we can find the courage to deal with the drug problem in a wise
and effective way, many of those little innocents will one day have
their lives ruined by the scourge of hard drugs. Young men will turn to
thievery and violence and many of the young women will take the easy way
out and turn to prostitution. And when they do the fault will not be
entirely with the drug dealers... we will all share the blame because of
our failure to do what is necessary to take the profits out of the
illicit drug trade.
Administration is now in charge of the problem and they show no signs of
having anything new or courageous to offer. Our lack of courage and our
inability to see the problem for what it is will almost certainly
guarantee a most horrific outcome... not only in Mexico, but in our own
family circles as well. With Obama and Clinton in charge it’s pretty
clear that the drug war is lost... again.