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The Disastrous War on Drugs Turns 40: 5 Ways to Stop the Madness

Four decadesafter President Nixon declared his war on drugs, let's take a look at the devastation and figure out how to end this thing.

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4. Politics must no longer be allowed to trump science - and compassion, common sense and fiscal prudence - in dealing with illegal drugs. Overwhelming evidence points to the greater effectiveness and lower cost of dealing with addiction and other drug misuse as matters of health rather than criminal justice. That's why DPA is stepping up our efforts to transform how drug problems are discussed and dealt with in local communities. "Think global but act local" applies to drug policy as much as any other domain of public policy. Of course it would be better if a president appointed someone other than a police chief, military general or professional moralist as drug czar. But what really matters is shifting the locus of authority in city and state drug policies from criminal justice to health and other authorities. And equally important is ensuring that new dialogues about drug policy are informed by scientific evidence as well as best practices from around the country and abroad. One of our specialties at DPA is getting people to think and act outside the box about drugs and drug policies.

5. Legalization has to be on the table. Not because it is necessarily the best solution. Not because it is the obvious alternative to the evident failures of drug prohibition. But for three important reasons: first, because it is the best way to reduce dramatically the crime, violence, corruption and other extraordinary costs and harmful consequences of prohibition; second, because there are as many options -- indeed more -- for legally regulating drugs as there are options for prohibiting them; and third, because putting legalization on the table involves asking fundamental questions about why drug prohibitions first emerged, and whether they were or are truly essential to protect human societies from their own vulnerabilities. Insisting that legalization be on the table -- in legislative hearings, public forums and internal government discussions -- is not the same as advocating that all drugs be treated the same as alcohol and tobacco. It is, rather, a demand that prohibitionist precepts and policies be treated not as gospel but as political choices that merit critical assessment, including objective comparison with non-prohibitionist approaches.

So that's the plan. Forty years after President Nixon declared his war on drugs, we're seizing upon this anniversary to prompt both reflection and action. And we're asking all of our allies -- indeed everyone who harbors reservations about the war on drugs -- to join us in this enterprise.

Ethan Nadelmann is founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance .

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