It’s serious, Mr. President

The drug war is no laughing matter

It was disappointing to see President Obama making fun of people during his Internet town hall forum last Thursday (March 26). Noting that one of the most popular questions submitted asked whether he thought legalizing marijuana could help the economy recover, he first replied, flashing his brilliant smile, “I don’t know what that says about the online audience,” before adding that he didn’t believe it was good policy. The audience in the East Room chuckled along with him.

But it was a serious question. Marijuana is a multibillion-dollar business in the United States, and right now neither the thugs getting rich off it nor the millions of people purchasing it pay a dime in taxes. Meanwhile, for decades, taxpayers have watched billions of their dollars being wasted in a fruitless effort to prevent the sale and use of marijuana.

The only people benefiting from that effort, besides the dealers, are police, prison guards, judges, district attorneys and all the others in the criminal-justice system for whom drug dealers and users are a principal source of their livelihoods.

Meanwhile, Mexico is being ravaged by vicious drug cartels and pervasive corruption because of the vast sums of money made selling drugs at exorbitant prices in the United States. Drug-dealing gangs terrorize American neighborhoods. School children in Los Angeles practice taking cover in anticipation of drive-by shootings. If anyone needs further evidence that this so-called “drug war” based on prohibition isn’t working, there it is.

This is one of the most serious issues facing this country—and one that, if resolved, could not only end a long national nightmare, but also save taxpayers and the government hundreds of billions of dollars now being spent to capture, prosecute and incarcerate people for their involvement with illicit drugs.

If that’s not an economic-recovery issue, what is?

Mind you, there is no intrinsic difference between illegal drugs and many that are legal. The difference between Oxycontin and heroin, for example, is slight at most. And yet the former is available by prescription, while the latter can be purchased only on the black market.

We control potentially dangerous legal drugs through the medical system; why not do the same with such drugs as cocaine and heroin? And why not legalize the relatively benign marijuana and tax it?

Yes, it’s possible that a few more people will use drugs if they’re easier to obtain. Then again, it’s possible use could go down, and it’s certain hard-drug users would be safer from overdosing. Either way, the result would be far preferable to what we have now: millions of people being thrown in jail, their lives ruined, and in Mexico nearly 7,000 dead in the drug war.