DUCK SOUP: End the Misguided War on Drugs, Stupid!

Researchers have discovered a foolproof program that reduces drug use but the breakthrough has been completely ignored. In just twenty years this method has helped millions of addicts to quit and millions more never to start. Dealers are losing their market, and growers are turning to other crops. The drug, of course, is tobacco.The steep decline in tobacco use during the past two decades stands in stark contrast to that of the illegal substances most people think of when the drug problem is mentioned. Billions of dollars have been spent to battle the illicit trade in marijuana, cocaine, heroin and contraband pharmaceuticals but the situation keeps getting worse. The lesson should be clear. We don't have a drug problem, we have a drug law problem. If we are serious about keeping kids off drugs and safeguarding citizens from violent crime we need to end the war on drugs.Folks are reasonably upset about the terrible ramifications of our drug culture: pushers snaring children, addicts who mug elderly citizens and gangs that kill each other or bystanders caught in the crossfire, crack houses in residential neighborhoods and cocaine cartels manipulating South American politics. But it's not the drugs, it's the drug economy, stupid! Illegal anything is extremely profitable. If we banned aspirin it would soon cost five bucks a pill. Notice that no one commits an armed robbery to finance a cigarette habit. Aside fromJoe Camel, how many creeps in dark glasses offer kids smokes?When legalization is suggested, get-tough politicians insist that we can't throw in the towel. They say making drugs legal would be an admission that we have lost. Well, haven't we? Over half the convicts in our hopelessly overcrowded prisons arrive there on drug or drug related charges. Enormous amounts of cash leave our economy to fatten the coffers of drug lords overseas. Teen drug use is increasing. Gang membership is on the rise.Meanwhile, consumption of far more dangerous drugs, tobacco and alcohol, has declined. Such legal drugs are closely regulated and taxed, providing money for education and enforcement. Required notices on package labels remind us of inherent dangers. There are no warning labels on the bags of crack that change hands in a schoolyard. There is no quality control on the heroin sold on city streets. When a junkie dies from shooting up, it isn't usually the heroin that kills, it's either impurities added by a pusher or AIDS on a dirty needle.Doctors rarely see an accidental overdose.America's brief experiment with alcohol prohibition early in this century was a disaster. Bootleg booze provided startup money for powerful crime families which spread out into illegal gambling and protection rackets. We saw blistering shoot-outs with Eliot Ness and the FBI. It wasn't the booze, it was the booze economy, stupid.If this were only an argument about money and drugs it should be enough to make us change our strategy. But it is clear that the environment is involved as well.Colombian forests fall as clandestine cocaine growers move further into the woods to avoid detection. Trees are cleared, coca grown for a season or two, and then on to the next site. Recent reports suggest this has become a significant factor in habitat destruction and fragmentation. Here at home huge chip mills are grinding our forests into paper pulp, while we refuse to legalize hemp production which could produce better fiber on fewer acres at less cost.Recycled paper becomes weaker each time it is reused because fibers become shorter and shorter. The long, strong fibers of the marijuana plant could greatly enhance recycling efforts by adding them to recovered stock. Most Bibles are printed on imported hemp paper because it is durable even when thin. In addition, hemp can replace cotton -- the most heavily pesticide-dependent crop in the world -- and could become an alternative product for tobacco farmers who face a declining market for their drug.It's time to end our misguided war on drugs and use what we have learned from tobacco to actually reduce drug use. Renewed commitment to a failed policy is not being tough, it is being stupid.

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