One lesson America is reluctant to learn: Wars are easer to declare than to win.
Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya elude the kind of total victory our country achieved in World War II.
And we have other declared wars that command national resources even though finding a strategy for a decisive victory has been elusive.
War on poverty.
War on cancer.
War on crime.
War on terror.
War on AIDS.
These wars confound us because we can find no way to total victory.
No war has been more confounding in that respect than the war on drugs.
Its cost over the last 40 years, some estimate, exceeds a trillion dollars.
Our criminal justice system continues to expend substantial resources tracking down drug sellers and users. Prisons are full of the “catch.”
Still, no victory is in sight. The use of illegal drugs rages on. Many otherwise law-abiding Americans “do drugs” or confess that they “did drugs” in the past.
Criminals run the profitable illegal drug marketing system that supplies the demand of American consumers. The high street cost of the illegal drugs drives drug addicts into criminal activities to raise money to buy the drugs.
Our jails are packed with such people.
So, is it time to surrender and give up the war on drugs by legalizing the hallucinogenic drugs that so many Americans are using?
Most say no. One person said that, having seen the devastation worked on the body of a crack addict, he could never support the legalization of the drug.
Certainly, no North Carolina politician could build a winning platform with a plank that supported legalization of such drugs.
But there are other voices.
Earlier this month, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, including commissioners George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State; Kofi Annan, former U.N. Secretary General; Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve chairman; and Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, released a report that asserted, “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”
The commission’s recommendations included this key one: “End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others.”
It also moves towards legalization with this suggestion: “Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.”
Public officials are not lining up to agree.
But retired UNC-Chapel Hill economics professor Arthur Benavie’s recent book, “Drugs: America’s Holy War,” provides support for the commission’s report.
Benavie writes, “…our society would benefit if the various levels of government controlled, regulated, and taxed all psychoactive drugs, allowing consumers some type of access. This policy reform would destroy the market for mob-controlled drug cartels, who currently rake in enormous tax-free profits in black markets, and who routinely engage in turf warfare.”
The policy choices facing Americans, according to Benavie, are much like those they faced when they decided to end prohibition of alcohol sales and consumption. The negative consequences of alcohol addiction and abuse cannot be overemphasized. But, most often in fighting and treating those abuses, it is an advantage that the alcohol abuser is not automatically made a criminal and sent to prison.
And, Benavie reminds us, “…since alcohol prohibition was ended in 1933, violent, illegal alcohol cartels have disappeared.”
It may be political suicide for an elected official to call for the legalization of mind-altering drugs. But it is time for responsible citizens to gather the facts and balance the negative and positive consequences of continuing or ending the war on drugs.