With over 1 out of 30 Americans controlled by the penal system, why not legalize, control, and tax marijuana to change the failed war on drugs into a money making, money saving boost to the economy? Do we really need that many victimless criminals?In response to this question from his online Town Hall, Obama's answer was a simple no. This answer may have been good for momentarily appeasing some on the political right, but it did not wrestle with the seriousness of the question.
The Huffington Post fleshed out the issue with a remark from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition:
Despite the president's flippant comments today, the grievous harms of marijuana prohibition are no laughing matter. Certainly, the 800,000 people arrested last year on marijuana charges find nothing funny about it, nor do the millions of Americans struggling in this sluggish economy. It would be an enormous economic stimulus if we stopped wasting so much money arresting and locking people up for nonviolent drug offenses and instead brought in new tax revenue from legal sales, just as we did when ended alcohol prohibition 75 years ago during the Great Depression.
From The Economist, March 7th, 2009:
In fact the war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless. That is why The Economist continues to believe that the least bad policy is to leaglise drugs.
"Least bad" does not mean good. Legalisation, though clearly better for producer countries, would bring (different) risks to consumer countries. As we outline below, many vulnerable drug-takers would suffer. But in our view, more would gain.
From Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, March 27th, 2009:
It's an indictment of our fact-averse political culture that a statement of the blindingly obvious could sound so revolutionary. "Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on her plane Wednesday as she flew to Mexico for an official visit. "Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border . . . causes the deaths of police, of soldiers and civilians."
. . .
First, though, let's be honest with ourselves. This whole disruptive, destabilizing enterprise has one purpose, which is to supply the U.S. market with illegal drugs. As long as the demand exists, entrepreneurs will find a way to meet it. The obvious demand-side solution -- legalization -- would do more harm than good with some drugs, but maybe not with others. We need to examine all options. It's time to put everything on the table, because all we've accomplished so far is to bring the terrible violence of the drug trade ever closer to home.
If we are lucky, some day we will conduct a serious analysis and debate about decriminalizing drugs.