…as imperfect as surveys may be, they present overwhelming evidence that the drug problem is growing smaller and has fallen in response to known, effective measures. Americans use illegal drugs at substantially lower rates than when systematic measurement began in 1979—down almost 40 percent. Marijuana use is down by almost half since its peak in the late 1970s, and cocaine use is down by 80 percent since its peak in the mid-1980s. Serious challenges with crack, meth, and prescription drug abuse have not changed the broad overall trend: Drug use has declined for the last 40 years, as has drug crime.
According to USA Today, “Marijuana, with 17.4 million users, is by far the most commonly used drug. Its popularity is growing: 6.9% of the population reported using marijuana regularly, up from 5.8% in 2007.” Among teens, says The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, “heavy” marijuana use is up 80% since 2008. As the chart below demonstrates, marijuana use and illicit drug use in general have risen over the past few years.
Walters is arguing that there has been a general decrease in drug use over the long term and not necessarily on a year to year basis. However, a 2010 report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which Walters used to be the White House director of, showed that illegal drug use is higher than it has been for nearly a decade. From MSNBC: “About 21.8 million Americans, or 8.7 percent of the population age 12 and older, reported using illegal drugs in 2009. That’s the highest level since the survey began in 2002.”
According to Gallup polls, in 1973 12% of respondents said they tried marijuana. By 1977, that number had doubled to 24%. By 1999, the number had increased again to 34%. It’s debatable as to whether or not more people simply felt comfortable admitting to marijuana use or whether more people were actually using marijuana, but either way, there is simply no evidence of the drug war, started by Richard Nixon in 1971, having decreased the number of people who admit to smoking weed. This is despite skyrocketing incarceration rates, shown in the chart below.
The are many criticisms to be made of Walter’s assertions, such as marijuana being far less dangerous than alcohol or the fact that drug-related crimes have decreased because crime in general has decreased or that countries with liberal drug laws have the lowest usage rates or that he has failed to prove that the war on drugs actually caused rather than coincided with decreased usage of cocaine.
But for now, let’s just look at the available data and state the obvious: there is nothing impressive about the results of the war on drugs and there is mounting evidence that legalization can do so much more.
The appeal of legalization is clear. At a stroke, it would wipe out most problems of the black market by depriving gun-wielding thugs of their competitive advantage. But for it to work, it would have to include not just the possession of drugs but their production as well—and not just of marijuana but of substances that really are very dangerous: cocaine, crack, heroin and methamphetamine.
Legalizing possession and production would eliminate many of the problems related to drug dealing, but it would certainly worsen the problem of drug abuse. We could abolish the illicit market in cocaine, as we abolished the illicit market in alcohol, but does anyone consider our current alcohol policies a success? In the U.S., alcohol kills more people than all of the illicit drugs combined (85,000 deaths versus 17,000 in 2000, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association). Alcohol also has far more addicted users.
Any form of legal availability that could actually displace the illicit markets in cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine would make those drugs far cheaper and more available. If these “hard” drugs were sold on more or less the same terms as alcohol, there is every reason to think that free enterprise would work its magic of expanding the customer base, and specifically the number of problem users, producing an alcohol-like toll in disease, accident and crime.
Portugal’s decade-long experiment with legalization isn’t mentioned in this article so I have to assume the authors thought the subject irrelevant to their argument (perhaps because Portugal’s success disproves their assertion that legalization must increase drug abuse).
It should go without saying that legalization comes with strings attached, specifically that all substances would be taxed, restricted, and regulated and that money currently spent on incarceration and enforcement of drug laws would instead be used to finance effective rehabilitation programs and clinics. This should go without saying because as far as I know, virtually all legalization advocates, from conservatives to progressives to libertarians, all support a shift from treating drugs as a criminal issue to treating it as a health issue.
The alcohol comparison is an interesting one but there are some major differences between alcohol use and drug use. For one thing, alcohol use is glorified in our culture whereas heroin use or meth use is not. Users of hard drugs such as heroin, crack, and meth tend to be poor people who are using drugs to escape their misery. Since the root of hard drug use tends to be the result of poverty, poor education, and a lack of proper health care, all of these topics need to be addressed if we are to effectively combat drug addiction. It should also be mentioned that addicts report that the greatest hindrance to seeking help with their addiction is their fear of getting arrested. Eliminate this fear and more addicts will seek treatment.
I sound like a broken record, but Portugal is doing precisely what I and other legalization advocates are calling for and this policy has proven incredibly successful over a 10 year period.
From a BBC News article:
The Global Commission on Drug Policy report calls for the legalisation of some drugs and an end to the criminalisation of drug users.
The panel includes former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the former leaders of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, and the entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.
The White House rejected the findings, saying the report was misguided.
As well as Mexico’s former President Ernesto Zedillo, ex-Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, the 19-member commission includes the former US Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and the current Prime Minister of Greece George Papandreou.
The panel also features prominent Latin American writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, the EU’s former foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and George Schultz, a former US secretary of state.
It cites UN estimates that opiate use increased 35% worldwide from 1998 to 2008, cocaine by 27%, and cannabis by 8.5%.
The commission is especially critical of the US, saying it must abandon anti-crime approaches to drug policy and adopt strategies rooted in healthcare and human rights.
If you have not done so already, be sure to sign Avaaz’s petition to end the war on drugs. 566,000 signatures and counting.
Why You Should Be Excited that Gary Johnson is Running for President (And Why You Should Consider Supporting Him in the Primaries)
Gary Johnson— the pro-choice, pro-civil union, pro-marijuana Republican— is officially running for President in 2012. Johnson earned a reputation as a principled libertarian-leaning Republican who vetoed every bill in sight while serving as governor of New Mexico for two terms.
Let me say from the outset that I am not a registered Republican and I don’t think Johnson has a chance in hell of winning the primaries, much less the general election. However, since Obama will obviously be the Democratic nominee, it may be worth briefly registering as a Republican to vote for Johnson in the primaries. Allow me to present my case.
Don’t be a partisan hack
Should a true patriot not desire to see the best representative of each party in the general election? Some Democrats are desperately hoping the Republicans will fuck up and nominate some teabagger who will have no shot at beating Obama. This sounds awfully like party loyalty above loyalty to country. Do Americans want the best candidates every time or do they only want their Party to dominate every election and thus establish a dictatorship-of-sorts in which tens of millions of Americans have no voice in their own government? A solid Republican running against a solid Democrat is good for everyone (It should be mentioned that a few Independents tossed in the mix would be nice).
Give it up for the big-balled, pro-choice Republican
Rejecting the absurd “life begins at conception” argument has long been the kiss of death for Republican candidates. So too will it be for Johnson, but any variant in the conservative candidate formula should be welcomed with open arms. Johnson seems to be the only pro-choice Republican who will run in 2012. George Pataki isn’t running. Giuliani is considering it but his performance in 2008 was too pathetic to justify another go-around.
Johnson hasn’t highlighted social issues in either his speeches or on his campaign website. At first, this may seem like an attempt to avoid controversy and focus on fiscal matters, but Johnson has made drug reform a big part of his platform. He supports legalizing marijuana which, again, means he can never win the nomination but he can at least draw attention to this long neglected issue.
Gary Johnson wants you to get high
Few politicians in either party treat this topic seriously, especially President Obama who has a bad habit of laughing whenever the issue is raised. One would think that since Obama, Bush, and Clinton have all used marijuana, they would at least be open to discussion of reform. It would be interesting to ask each of them if they wish they’d all been arrested when they lit up in their younger years. Does their support of current drug laws mean they wish that their friends and family members had all been arrested when they “experimented” with that funky green leaf?
He’s a good guy…
I happen to hold the perhaps old-fashioned view that a politician’s moral character is important. I might agree with Bill Clinton on some issues but his stunning ability to pathologically lie about things that aren’t even important reveals much about what kind of President he was. Gary Johnson seems to be an honest and principled person. I’m not talking about marriage, family values, or any of that religious shit. I mean he has a demonstrated history of voting according to his beliefs and not voting to curry favor or gain supporters. This is a highly respectable, if not always practical, way to govern for which Johnson and others like him should be commended.
…but he’s still a Republican.
So on at least 3 issues, Johnson has proven himself unique. On the major issues of the day— taxes, spending, deficits and job growth— he is a rather traditional small government type. Lower taxes all around, leave it to the private sector, etc. etc. Johnson is a traditional conservative fed up with big government providing health care to people who might otherwise go bankrupt or die….sorry, I mean evil socialist Obamacare.
I rest my case
So when it comes time to vote for a Republican nominee, consider Gary Johnson— not because he will win or because you agree with him on everything— but because the other nominees are completely pathetic and deserve your contempt. Then, go outside, give your gay lover a pat on the ass, light up a J, and suck in that sweet smoke of freedom.