Editorial: Let's Get Real Already About Ending Drug Prohibition

David Borden, Executive Director

David Borden
The annual FBI Uniform Crime Report came out last week, and the news it brought about drug arrests in 2006 was no surprise. Unsurprisingly, drug arrests again hit a record level -- 1,889,810 this time, 829,625 for marijuana, more than eight out of ten drug arrests for just possession. Almost nine out of ten marijuana arrests were for possession alone.

This all transpired in a year when violent crime was on the increase, 1.9% over 2005 and the second year in a row after a decade's decline. One should not exaggerate a relatively small number like 1.9%. But at a minimum an opportunity may have been lost to reduce violent crime. Why do we continue to plough such vast resources into drug enforcement that could otherwise be used to protect us from attacks -- attacks of whatever kind?

Despite a small uptick in the street price of cocaine recently -- due only to short-term operational challenges facing the industry -- all of this drug enforcement has been a massive failure. On Wednesday I attended a lunch talk at a DC-based foreign policy think tank given by Arnold Trebach, founder of our modern drug policy reform movement (he started the Drug Policy Foundation) and a professor emeritus of American University. In order to make the point about the futility of drug war, Arnold called a friend of his who is knowledgeable about the heroin scene prior to coming downtown for the talk. He wanted to know where one would go now in order to acquire heroin. After all, it's been awhile since he researched his 1982 work, The Heroin Solution.

Things have indeed changed since then, but despite perhaps millions of drug arrests over the years (10 million? 15? 20?), heroin has not become less available. In fact, it's easier to obtain it than ever before, at least if one knows the right people. According to Arnold, his friend told him that now you wouldn't go out to buy it, you'd just call the delivery service, and if you have any references to vouch for you, they would get it to you in about 20 minutes.

20 minutes. We could have finished our lunches, listened to half of Arnold's talk, then ordered some heroin, received it before the end of the talk and consumed it with dessert. (Of course for a variety of reasons, not limited to our need to get work done the rest of the day, we didn't do that and instead just took Arnold's friend's word that we could have.)

The diversion of resources away from more important -- and more feasible -- tasks is only one of many reasons to go with legalization. The money being spent on the illicit drug trade -- estimates globally are in the hundreds of billions of dollars -- is fueling violence, both global and local. I don't know whether the increase in drug arrests in the US played a role in the increase in violence last year, but it's clearly possible. Far more importantly, a chunk of the violence that we have suffered with throughout the years is directly or indirectly related to the drug trade.

And the money is warping society. How many young people have been lured into lives of criminality through the promise that the drug trade appears to offer? Most of them don't end up making great money doing so. But it's there, there's a prospect for advancement, and depending on your outlook it's glamorous and it lets you be part of something larger than yourself. Money from the drug trade is also helping to support those who want to carry out terrorist attacks, and in some places is fueling civil wars. All of this is happening because drugs are illegal, not because of any intrinsic properties of the drugs.

But would the sky fall if drugs were legal? Would so many more people use and get addicted to drugs that the harm would be greater from that than from the criminality created now by prohibition? Arnold told the audience that he believes we can devise a system for controlling a licit drug trade; that it would not be unduly difficult to do so (we do this already for the currently legal drugs, after all), and "we would survive." We could still help people with drug problems, we can regulate the drugs any number of different ways, we can face that challenge.

I in fact think the overall public health harm from drugs would decrease, not increase, even if more people experimented with them. After all, most people don't destroy themselves with drugs today, legal or illegal, despite their widespread availability, simply because they don't want to destroy themselves. For those who do get addicted to drugs like heroin, but who don't earn a fairly generous personal income, the artificially high prices that prohibition brings about for the drugs is a big part of making the habit so disruptive to their lives. I believe that on the public health side as well as on the criminal justice side, legalization will overall be a winning move, despite the harms that some drugs can have.

It can be hard to advance this discussion in circles of power. Arnold commented that at least eight people in US officialdom told him they would be glad to meet with him, they appreciated what he was doing, but they preferred not to meet him in their offices. They wanted to meet at one restaurant or another, where they hopefully would not been seen with him and thereby get in political hot water. That was a long time ago, but it is still the situation in many ways today.

And yet we do advance -- this organization and newsletter are here, for example, and the movement is growing in diversity and experience and size. Now it's time for the leaders to get real -- drug legalization is viable and it's the right thing to do. So stop demonizing it and start talking about it. Because sometimes leadership means actually leading.

(Signed copies of Arnold's two re-released books -- "The Heroin Solution" and "The Great Drug War" -- as well as his new work, "Fatal Distraction: The War on Drugs in the Age of Islamic Terror," can be obtained as membership premiums by donating to DRCNet.)

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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When cocaine, opium and all

When cocaine, opium and all its derivatives, including heroin, were cheap and readily available in grocery stores and from the Sears, Roebuck catalog (and when we were actually encouraged to consume these drugs), the nation's addiction rate was roughly the same as it is today: <2%.

The only true difference between then and now is the global crime associated with the black market for drugs. Repealing prohibition will eliminate this crime, virtually overnight (not to mention bringing stability to regions producing drugs). The quiet desperation of addiction will remain, of course, but those in its throes will no longer face arrest and incarceration - and experience significant declines in disease and accidental death.

Advocating the repeal of drug prohibition is not only the right thing to do, it is the only path to take. Investing our time and resources advocating the incremental approach to reform, exemplified by medical marijuana, has born little real results. And to all those who whisper that winning the battle on medical marijuana will lead to winning the war, I have just one question: What drug will you champion next?

2% addiction?

I have read an article that quoted that 33% of Americans were addicted! Where do you get that the "2%" number. Of course, the high number was quoted in an article by addictionologistst! And I have no idea how they came up with that number, either!! Nothing like job security! Just bolster up the statistics! When we have people who are getting rich because of the addiction industry, we can expect the lies to be never ending! The scientific truth will be hard for most to swallow!

Oh, and by the way, I think that 2% number is much more accurate. I have treated chronic pain patients in the past, and the high numbers just don't pan out!

He was probably counting the

He was probably counting the number of people addicted to caffeine. A drug more dangerous than cannabis, to be sure!

You're funny

Ending drug prohibition? HA! The United States has been engaged in the corrupt drug trade since the Opium Wars, for which China would love vengeance. Not that I'm against ending it, but not even Ron Paul's "Constitutionalism" could end Drug Prohibition, because if the United States government adhered to its own political doctrine in the first place, we would never have engaged in it (again) at all.

How To End The Drug War

After reading a very good article about how Alcohol Prohibition really ended (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/search/print_518872.html), I concluded that, until We The People actually rise up together and don't stop bothering our elected officials to repeal the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 or something solid like that, Prohibition II will - WILL - continue until we are into Depression II. It's like the old saying: The drug war isn't winnable, it's fundable.

The leader of the anti-drug war movement, like a brave and wise General in battle, should find the best target, mobilize his troops, and pummel that target until it is destroyed. The most peaceful way to do this is by relentlessly emailing, sending letters, calling our reps, visiting their offices, and performing true sit-ins and marches - all of us with the same message. Not once, nor yearly, but at the very least, weekly.

So, what should that message be, and when can we begin to work together for real? I'll be watching for the revolutionary dispatch while I keep sending my messages of ending the drug war to my rep and senators. I won't stop telling them about how this destructive policy must end, but it sure would help if others would add in their 2 cents. Every voice adds up to the others and gets this topic on the table sooner rather than later!

Work for that freedom, and we'll receive it! Or, just wait around. It'll all be over when America collapses under its own debt.

Cheers to Every Freedom-Seeker,
M. M. Marshall

I just sent this message to my rep and senators. Please join in!

"Honorable _____,

Please end our nation's war on its own citizens: The War on
Drugs. This vastly ineffective, expensive and horribly destructive policy
must end and be replaced with honest medical and scientific
information, sales much like those of OTC medicines/herbs, and voluntary treatment from private companies. Begin this righting of a terrible wrong by
introducing legislation to repeal the unconstitutional Controlled
Substance Act of 1970. Please let me know of your response, thank you."

I hope this motivates people to contact congress today.

M. M. Marshall


is not getting more expensive because police are any more successful. That is a false hope on the part of government.

Watching the stories from around the world in the past year it is easy to see that global demand is increasing in new markets. Russia especially is increasing its demand as oil and other natural resources infuse the country with new money. Even Europe is snorting more coke.

The production is not significantly increasing so the supply is spread over a larger demand population.

On October 4, 2007 the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee will hold hearings titled "Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?" I have sent a letter to my U.S. Senator, Bob Casey, as well an Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Schumer, hearing chairman Sen. Jim Web-VA and committee member Rep. Ron Paul of TX. Seeds of Insurrection in America's Field of Dreams

I have also posted the contact information for all members of the committee here: U.S. Congress Jim Crow Economics Hearing October 4, 2007

PLEASE people, consider faxing the members a letter on this important criminal justice hearing. Especially if your representative is a member of the committee. Ron Paul is among the members of the committee. Last week he said of the drug war: " We don't have to have more courts and more prisons. We need to repeal the whole war on drugs. It isn't working." Video.

You could write to leaders of the committee and express support for Rep. Paul.

When they say they "don't want to send the wrong message"

Prohibitioners often say that they "don't want to send the wrong message" to kids (or society in general), about drugs by legalizing them. They say they don't want to make it "okay" to do drugs. I used to think that was a more or less reasonable concern, even when i thought, in general, that the drug war was wrong. i no longer think it's something to be concerned about, though. I think society in general will discourage the use of most drugs, even after they are legal. Similarly to the way a disruptive drunk is socially disliked, and to the way cigarrette smokers are often also socially disliked, drug users will usually be socially disliked– and probably much more so in the case of the harder drugs.

A Canadian Agrees

I am an Addictions Counselling student at the University of Lethbridge. I have made use of alcohol, but I have never become drunk. I have never experimented with any of the harder drugs, nor have I used marijuana or nicotine at any point. Having made this clear, I cannot help but think that the legalization of many substances of abuse would be of great benefit to both societies, my own and yours alike. The stigma accorded to these substances seems to cause as much or more harm than their neurochemically disruptive qualities. By legalizing them now, who knows how much of the harm will have been reduced?

2%? 33%?

Depending on the definition, I think the actual figure would more likely be 0%.

terrorist money

While I agree with many of the points you bring up Mr. Borden; I will have to respectively disagree on the point of drug money fueling terrorist plans to any large extent. This, on it's face, seems like you might be agreeing with those tired anti-marijuana adds from a few years ago. Part of it might be the definition of what constitutes a "terrorist". If you mean:

"Terrorism in the modern sense is violence or other harmful acts committed (or threatened) against civilians for political or other ideological goals."

then i would agree that the drug war does fuel terrorism. Namely that of a government which has proven itself unwilling to listen to reasonable, compassionate, and well supported arguments by pro-decriminalization and pro-legalization groups and individuals. I would agree that illegal drug money supports terrorism if you make sure to point out that, in the past at least and most likely now, many government so-called "black" ops were/are supported by artificially inflated prices created by our nations war on drugs. The rampant police corruption and associated violence of both police and organized crime might also be considered terrorism. Although you and other contributors have done an outstanding job of addressing the latter points.

I have been a long time supporter of drcnet and will continue to be so, but please make sure to qualify some statements a bit more, so as to minimize any confusion.

thank you for your efforts to help educate and liberate
a fellow supporter

While I understand and have

While I understand and have sympathy for your implication the U.S. fuels terrorism by prohibiting drugs, I believe a better label for their action would be treason (Section.3. Clause 1 of the Constitution).

point taken

I can agree with your statement overall. :)

List of current supporters

Does anyone know who supports the anti drug war movement up in Washington? And a list of people running for office with this same support would be good so we can get them elected.


The only terriost I see is the Governments! I feel sad for the American people getting treated like this! Why don't they just lock up everyone????Oh yes then it would not be a free country!!!!!

Health Insurance & Big Pharma

Wanna get free health insurance for all the middle class kiddies? Just stop the drug war and use the mony saved by re-legalizing everything to finance it.
Lifting the prescription requirement for ALL drugs would not only dry up illegal channels but put big bucks in the pockets of Big Pharma. Bush LOVES Big Pharma. I can't imagine what he is waiting for!

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