Debating the Drug War

Many are mocking the GOP presidential debate scheduled for tonight. Sure, we won’t have many of the major candidates, but as Andrew Sullivan points out, we now have a second libertarian candidate in the race – former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson. Last week he was interviewed on HuffPo, and here’s his take on the war on drugs:

So going back to 1999, I came to the conclusion… that 90% of the drug problem is prohibition-related, not use-related. That’s not to discount the problems with use and abuse, but that ought to be the focus. So in 1999, I advocated then, I advocate it now. Legalize marijuana. Control it, regulate it, tax it. It’s never going to be legal to smoke pot, become impaired, get behind the wheel of a car, do harm to others. It’s never going to be legal for kids to smoke pot or buy pot. And under which scenario is it going to be easier for kids to smoke pot or buy pot? The situation that exists today, where it’s virtually available anywhere, and the person that sells pot also sells harder drugs? Or a situation where to purchase it, you would have to produce an ID in a controlled environment, like alcohol, to be able to buy it. I think you can make the case that it would be harder to buy it, in that controlled environment.

When it comes to all the other drugs – [marijuana] is the only drug that I’m advocating legalizing – but when it comes to all the other drugs, I think what we ought to really be concentrating on are harm reduction strategies – the things that we really care about, which is reducing death, disease, crime, corruption – in a nutshell, it is looking at the drug problem first as a health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue.

So here we have the border violence with Mexico. 28,000 deaths south of the border over the last four years. I believe that if we legalize marijuana 75% of that border violence goes away, because that’s the estimate of the drug cartel’s activities that revolve around the drug trade. The drug trade – prohibition – these are disputes that are being played out with guns, rather than the courts. Control this stuff, regulate this stuff, take the money out of drugs, and so goes the violence.

Hat tipAndrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald

As Greenwald points out, anything that shines a light on the stupidity of the drug war is a good thing. In many ways, the GOP debates will be a joke, particularly if the confederacy of dunces makes an appearance. But with Johnson and Ron Paul in the race, we have two credible voices who will challenge right wing orthodoxy. Remember four years ago when Ron Paul repeatedly called out Rudy Giuliani’s bullshit?

We need to have this debate on drugs. President Obama is way too distracted with other things to spend political capital in this area. Hopefully he will address it in his second term, and that will be easier the more we hear from people like Paul and Johnson.

  

Reforming the marijuana laws

Things are starting to change. In Massachusetts, the voters overwellmingly approved a ballot initiative decriminalizing marijuana.

Defying the scare tactics of state and local officials, voters in Massachusetts and Michigan gave current marijuana policies a resounding vote of no confidence Tuesday. Massachusetts voters approved the first marijuana decriminalization initiative ever passed by voters, Michigan voters enacted the nation’s 13th medical marijuana law, and local reform measures appeared to be passing in several communities.

“Tonight’s results represent a sea change,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which sponsored the Massachusetts and Michigan campaigns. “Voters have spectacularly rejected eight years of the most intense government war on marijuana since the days of ‘Reefer Madness.’”

In Michigan, White House drug czar John Walters personally campaigned against Proposal 1, calling it an “abomination.” In Massachusetts, all 11 district attorneys warned of huge increases in teen marijuana use and other dire consequences should Question 2 pass, even though studies in the 11 states with similar laws, as well as Australia and Europe, have found no such increases due to decriminalization. Under Question 2, criminal penalties for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana will be replaced by a civil fine of $100, much like a traffic ticket.

This makes sense and I expect it to gain traction around the country. Marijuana cases are clogging the courts, so more jurisdictions will begin to consider these reforms.

Medical marijuana has made even more progress, and Barack Obama has pledge to stop the disgraceful practices of the Bush adminitration to use federal laws to prosecute users of medical marijuana.

We should expect significant changes in the Drug War as well. Obama will not apoint a drug czar who views medical marijuana as an “abomination” and he has been very critical of locking up non-violent drug offenders.

It’s encouraging, however, to see these changes coming from the bottom up.

  

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