Imagining Prohibition's End

It's important sometimes in any issue to push the boundaries of the debate. Last week, the group Transform, a UK-based outfit, did just that. Transform outlines, in a new report, models for how a post-prohibition, regulatory system of drug control could be constructed. Then, they confidently predict that Britain will have something like that in place within 20 years.

Twenty years till legalization? Here in the U.S. that must seem unrealistic, even surreal, to the average observer. In Washington, D.C., for example, the nation's capital and my home, I was not allowed to cast a vote for a medical marijuana ballot initiative for which I petitioned. My city's government is forbidden from using our local tax funds to support needle exchange programs. In the Congress that resides a few miles away, legislators dream up new mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. The situation is an extreme one, making an end to drug prohibition a little hard to imagine.

But if the currents of politics and culture are against us, one must not lose sight of the undercurrents, and those are flowing our direction. The degree of support for ending prohibition, the amount of discussion of it by high level political and opinion leaders, while small is markedly less small than before. In 1998, no governors of U.S. states were willing to speak seriously about legalization. By 1999, there were two, Gary Johnson of New Mexico, a Republican, and Minnesota's Jesse Ventura.

As Gov. Johnson once expressed it, support for the drug war is a mile wide but an inch deep. Our arguments are compelling, especially those having to do with the violence, both domestic and global, that is fueled by illicit drug profits that would not exist under a system of regulation. Most people have never heard the real case in all its glory, and I can't feel pessimistic until they have. In my observation, this is an effective time to be working for the purpose of being heard making that case.

So, could Transform be right? Could it actually happen, even in America, the drug war's ideological, diplomatic center? I think that 20 years could quite possibly be long enough. In fact, 20 years is too long – too many lives will be needlessly ruined or lost during that time. But that is all the more reason for positive thinking. Yes – prohibition's days are numbered.

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