07 April 2007

How To Convince the Political Class That "The War On Drugs" Must End

It has been beyond obvious that the "War on Drugs" is a bad idea. But it seems impossible to convince very many politicians in either major party at any level to do much about it.

Drug addiction is an awful thing. People do stupid, dangerous and harmful things on drugs and to get the money to fuel their addictions. But criminalization has exasperated rather than mitigated those problems.

So how do you frame the argument against this war to convince politicians to oppose the ongoing war?

Libertarian argument:
This one is a no brainer, libertarians are already against 'the war'. Too bad there are so few libertarians in office.

"Family Values" Social conservative argument:
Drugs are evil, yes, that's undeniable. But the illegality of the drugs themselves punishes people for their very human failings in a manner that is unchristian, unfair, and unamerican. Love the sinner, hate the sin. It's bad enough they sin against their own body, don't make it a crime, also.

"Nanny State" big government liberals argument:
An unregulated market is a dangerous market. Without government oversight, the relative safety and purity of the various things people choose to put in themselves is far too variable. If we legalize drugs, we reduce the 'cool factor' associated with illicit drugs, and we can make sure that the dosages are better controlled. Besides, sin taxes are terrific sources of revenue, and taxing marijuana (while eliminating the wasteful spending on interdiction) alone could fund universal health care as well as many green initiatives.

"Moderate" middle-of-the-road argument:
The 'war' has been wasteful in human terms and in resources. You can dislike drugs personally (or like them), but you can't deny that a certain percentage of people are prone to drug seeking, and will do so no matter what the law says, just as even if every drug under the sun is perfectly legal, the majority of people will either reject them outright, or find a way to balance their drug use with their functioning in their private life, just as they do with alcohol, which is just as toxic, and in many cases, far more toxic than illegal drugs. Punish behaviors, not substances.

So, what would happen to a Bill Richardson, who despite a decent pile of cash, still trails the others substantially, if he took this position early and hit it hard during the primaries? It would add a great deal of heat to his campaign, that's for sure. If you're going to lose anyway, at least lose with a great issue.

Same goes for a Mike Huckabee on the Republican side. He has no chance, none, not even a slim chance. But, if he pushed a sensible plan for first decriminalization and then legalization of illicit drugs, he could find a way to draw in new voters, as well as energize a hidden voting bloc that may decide that this is an issue that could get them to the polls.

Another person who could take advantage of an audacious position on this matter, is Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He's hinted at an independent campaign for president. He could blow $100-200 million dollars of his own money on a vanity campaign and still be rolling in dough. Just as Perot had one main position, anti-NAFTA, and managed to garner a significant number of votes (but no pluralities in any states necessary to get electoral votes), Bloomberg could do well if he staked out a radical position on this issue. As Mayor of New York City, he more than anyone should know what a waste the drug war is, he could use that position to highlight the difference between himself and either of the major party candidates (just as Perot's populist rhetoric on trade attracted voters despite all the other problems with his campaign).

This is mostly a response to Reader I Am's post over at Done With Mirrors (which in of itself is a response to the Huff in HuffPo's post prodding Dem's to attack this issue). It's a good post, well worth reading, and she links to this blast from the past at National Review. Even if William F. Buckley is unwilling to admit he copied me regarding a 'green inquisition' I'm willing to acknowledge he's been way out in front on this particular issue. Speaking of that National Review symposium, way back then Arianna was still a Republican, I wonder if she was at that particular symposium?

And lest it seem I'm advocating Arianna Huffington's position on this matter, making this issue mainly about racial politics is cynical, untruthful, divisive, and harmful. Just as those that feared welfare reform would hurt 'people of color' disproportionately and were wrong, as far as the war on drugs go, it sucks for all Americans, not just 'people of color'. When alcohol was illegal, you could have argued that prohibition was a 'war on Italians and other catholics and recent immigrants' but that would be a gross oversimplification ignoring many realities (and ignoring that a large percentage of the folks involved in the illicit booze trade were indeed Italians, recent immigrants and other catholics, like say the pater familias of a prominent political family). Same goes for calling the current prohibition, a "war on people of color" the way Arianna does. Just cause people of color are disproportionately effected, doesn't mean they are being disproportionately targeted (for political reasons) as would seem to be Huffington's not so implicit suggestion.

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