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Five Ways We Can Build a Movement to Stop This Idiotic War on Drugs

This is a time to put big ideas on the table. We have to learn how to coexist with drugs. They aren't going anywhere.

The United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars waging its 40-year "war on drugs," responsible for the imprisonment of 500,000 of our fellow American citizens. Despite this enormous waste of money and lives, drugs are as easily available and cheap as ever. The drug-warmongers say it is all for the safety and protection of our children, yet high-schoolers all over the country can easily obtain just about any illegal drug they are seeking in this unregulated market. Half of all high school seniors will have tried marijuana before graduating. The government's latest Monitoring the Future report, released in December, indicates that more young people are now choosing to smoke pot rather than cigarettes.

Despite these disheartening facts, there is reason for optimism and hope. More and more people are joining the movement to end the failed war on drugs. Passionate people in every neighborhood and from every walk of life, liberals and conservatives, are joining this fast-growing movement. Though there are some compelling reasons drugs should remain illegal, we should at least begin an honest discussion about the root causes of the violence and the range of options to deal with the harms associated with prohibition. It is clear that the strategy of the past 40 years is not working. Below are five opportunities to engage our fellow citizens, discuss the enormous challenges we face, and come up with solutions to reduce the harms of both drug misuse and drug prohibition.

1. Drug Prohibition is Creating a Bloodbath Along the U.S.-Mexico Border 

Thanks to the drug war, a bloody war is raging in Mexico right now -- spilling into otherwise low-crime U.S. cities along the border! More than 5,000 Mexicans were killed in 2008 as a direct result of drug prohibition -- more deaths than all the fallen American service members since the Iraq war began. Whole towns and communities are living in fear with no one  -- not politicians, judges, journalists nor pop stars  -- immune from the violence.

Classrooms are half-empty because children are afraid to go to school; decapitated heads are left in the streets; and there are even murders occurring in hospitals, where gunmen go to "complete" the job. Nothing in the coca or marijuana plant causes these deaths. Rather, it is prohibition that creates a profit motive people are willing to kill for. Remember, when alcohol consumption was illegal in this country, we had Al Capone and shootouts in the streets. Today, no one dies over the sale of a beer.

This week, the border town of El Paso, Texas, passed a resolution suggesting an open and honest dialogue on ending drug prohibition. The nonbinding resolution suggested that legalizing drugs in the United States could help curb a volatile and bloody drug war that last year claimed nearly 1,600 lives in Juarez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said we should consider legalizing marijuana, observing that marijuana sales are responsible for up to 75 percent of the money that cartels use for smuggling other drugs and for combating the army and police in Mexico. Goddard contends these profits could be significantly reduced if marijuana possession were to be legalized.

2. Economic Crisis: We Can No Longer Afford an Ineffective Drug War

States from New York to California and in between are facing billion-dollar budget deficits. Governors and mayors are being forced to cut spending on everything from education to heath care, and are even shutting down popular prevention programs. Fortunately, a win-win solution for governors facing a budget crunch is apparent: Reform the drug laws and offer treatment instead of jail for nonviolent drug offenders. States could save hundreds of millions of dollars by doing away with these wasteful laws that lock up nonviolent people with drug convictions at a hefty price tag of $40,000 per year. We can't afford these ineffective and inhumane laws anymore!

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