Our prisons are full, but the stupidity continues

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By Jim Flynn

For reasons they would prefer not to discuss, politicians and bureaucrats become addicted to failed ideas. The so-called “war on drugs” is an example of political obsession – clinging to a bad idea, no matter how long it fails.

We do not mean to denigrate the efforts and sacrifices of those who have served valiantly in the trenches. They are fighting a problem that continues to get worse and has no conceivable end. 

The war on drugs is a replay of the failures of prohibition. In 1919, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited production and consumption of alcohol. Enforcement was a national joke.

Speakeasies popped up everywhere. Backwoods and offshore bootlegging flourished. The Mafia organized a nationwide crime empire. Corruption of law enforcers, prosecutors, judges, and politicians was rampant. And billions in potential alcohol tax revenue was never collected.  

The worst result of prohibition was widespread disrespect for the law. Well-meaning do-gooders seeded a garden of corruptions, many of which survive and flourish today. The “noble experiment” as supporters liked to call it, was amended out of existence after 14 years and huge costs to federal, state, and local taxpayers. 

“War on drugs” is one of those asinine names intended to garner public cheers for questionable undertakings that never end. It was a President Richard Nixon creation, a politician with do-goody roots that didn’t always apply to him. 

The beginning of an end to the war-on-drugs stupidity would be a presidential and congressional acknowledgement that there is no war, and there is no person or nation named “drugs.”

Over the past 40 years, half of adult Americans have tried illegal drugs, and yet the national addiction rate is still 1 percent, the same as it was almost a hundred years ago when all drugs were over-the-counter legal. Over the same 40 years, we’ve filled up our prisons with low-level drug sellers and addicted users.

There is a real war going on among the Mexican drug cartels, which took over from the Columbian cartels. Members of cartels negotiate with each other with guns in hand. They don’t settle their disputes in courts. 

As any smart business would, cartels have created subsidiaries in 230 U.S. cities in order to be close to their customers and defend their markets. Despite the recession, ille-gal drug operations have a very successful business plan.

To keep government from interfering in their free-market capitalism, cartels try to corrupt police, prosecutors, judges, and politicians, just as the Mafia did.

In Mexico, they shoot them – several thousand annually. With U.S. money, 45,000 Mexican troops are trying unsuccessfully to keep the cartels south of the border.

We’ve pledged additional billions to Mexico and Afghanistan, and we’ll spend billions more at home unless we stop funding a policy which is going nowhere. Presently domestic drug enforcement consumes more than $40 billion of federal, state, and local funds annually.

Canceling the war on drugs is not a nutty idea. It has support from thousands of law enforcement officers who have taken part in the long failure, and from a number of prestigious publications and academics. 

Legalizing and regulating all drugs would have no more disruptive effect than occurred when alcohol was re-legalized in 1933. Under legalization, drug users would be allowed to buy their wants and needs at local pharmacies, on which they would pay applicable taxes. A huge bureaucracy would disappear overnight.

Politicians love to chatter about smaller government, balanced budgets, reducing the national debt, and fiscal responsibility. Despite all the blather, it never happens, no matter which party controls Congress and the White House.

Why? First both major parties have spending agenda intended to get and keep political power. Second, politicians have vested interests in agencies that cater to their committees by providing jobs for friends, supporters, and relatives. Third, back scratching among congress members requires that no member attack an agency which affects the perks of another member.

Most importantly, laying off a no-longer-needed federal employee is an unforgivable sin. All government services are essential, forever and ever. There are no unnecessary agencies. 

Here’s your chance, Congress: Declare victory in the war on drugs and let the big drug manufacturers make zillions buying, packaging, and selling heroin and cocaine as booze in a capsule.

Jim Flynn was formerly a corporate counsel, served in military intelligence during the Korean War and once aspired to be a newspaper columnist.