The Wall Street Journal's editorial page has an impregnable reputation as a bastion of conservative thought and a long history of support for drug prohibition. But something is going on at the nation's second most widely read newspaper. In a signed editorial Tuesday by deputy editor for international affairs George Melloan, the Journal came out swinging at the drug war and its failures.
Just to increase the comfort factor, Melloan began by name-checking conservative icons economist Milton Friedman and big word user William F. Buckley Jr., both of whom have strongly criticized drug prohibition before wading into what, for readers of the Chronicle, will be a familiar litany of drug war failures and unforeseen consequences.
"The drug war has become costly," Melloan complained. "Civil rights sometimes are infringed." Interdiction "isn't working," and may even be pushing Latin American peasants into the arms of Journal bogeymen Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. "Mexico is being destabilized" and prohibition is aiding Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Melloan continued.
Prohibition contradicts the dogma of the free market, Melloan argued, citing Friedman. Thwarting supply only drives up prices, making the trade immensely profitable and difficult to kill. "The more the US spends on interdiction, the more incentive it creates for taking the risk of running drugs," he noted.
Alcohol Prohibition "left a legacy of corruption, criminality, and death," and no one would consider reinstating it, Melloan wrote. "Yet prohibition is still being attempted, at great expense, for the small portion of the population -- perhaps little more than 5% -- who habitually use proscribed drugs."
Instead, Melloan implied, we might to better to deal with the problems of drug use as we do with those related to alcohol. "Society copes by punishing drunken misbehavior, offering rehabilitation programs and warning youths of the dangers. Most Americans drink moderately, however, creating no problems either for themselves or society," he noted.
Given the damage from prohibition, Melloan wrote, the question must be asked: "Do you favor legalization or decriminalization of the sale and use of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines?" Most Americans will probably still say no because of fears of damaging the fabric of society, he conceded before ending with another question: "Is that fabric being damaged now?"
The times they are a changing...