Building on a good start

Last week in these pages we reported on efforts in Congress by Democrats and especially Republicans to finally repeal the federal prohibition on marijuana.

This response to the exasperated actions of everyday voters taking back control of the plant from prohibitionists is laudable, and we hope it happens. But it should not stop there. Let’s talk about other drugs. It’s hard to believe the United States must keep learning these lessons, but here are some of the things prohibition of popular personal habits does:

1. It creates a market.

2. It fuels the lure of the forbidden.

3. It fuels an increase in practice of the prohibited habit.

In the early 20th century, when drug addiction was treated principally as a health care matter, addiction was a miniscule problem. Then politicians and newspapers learned the potency of narcotics as a political issue, repeatedly staging nationwide hysterias that got voters aroused. After packs of lies and virulent racism were floated, prohibition enactments followed at both local and federal levels.

Remember, addiction was a tiny problem when there was no prohibition and a small problem during periods when enforcement was deemphasized, such as during the Ford and Carter administrations.

What we’re getting at here is that marijuana prohibition is not the only threat to the public. Since the drug wars of Nixon, Reagan and Bush I, we have seen terrible consequences. A massive bureaucracy was formed as the Drug Enforcement Administration. Breaches of nearly every amendment in the Bill of Rights were approved by Congress. Parents informed on their children and vice versa. The DEA hired men to seduce women into drug use so they could be prosecuted and imprisoned. Forfeiture laws that allowed local police departments to keep the proceeds of drug busts compromised department after department, as when Los Angeles police killed a ranch owner to get his ranch. A Las Vegas couple’s private plane was seized, never returned, and no charges were ever filed. Children and teens were thrown into quack residential anti-drug programs that brutalized them and accomplished little.

And the result of all this kind of thing? Drug use. Lots and lots of drug use, of a level not seen when addictive drugs were treated as a health issue. More than a century of experience has shown us that neither politicians or journalists can be trusted with the incendiary issue. Just as the public has asserted itself on marijuana, it should now look at doing the same on drugs generally. Decades of prohibition and punitive law enforcement have turned a minor health care problem into a major illicit industry. Turning it back over to the health care community would save $2 billion a year when the DEA is shut down, as well as other major savings when the purview of other agencies like the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are reduced.

There is no quick fix. But drug use and the raucous trappings of prohibition will slowly decline if government is out of it and the health care community takes over.

Our economies, rights and fates have been tied for far too long to irresponsible, dangerous purveyors of prohibition. Marijuana showed the way.