Last month the United Nations issued a report admitting that the worldwide war on drugs has failed. Richard Nixon was the first president to use such terminology back in 1971, and subsequent presidents have been hard at it — all with mixed results.
When I served in the Bush, senior White House, it was the common belief that what was needed was an even bigger hammer for the drug problem. A good combination of focused military power and CIA ingenuity would do the trick. We even invaded Panama. But today, the crisis is worse than ever before with no end in sight. Mexico is only a collateral causality. That country has been ruined by addiction.
Albert Einstein once quipped that "insanity was doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result." Barack Obama and all of the new serious GOP presidential candidates offer only more of the same, proving that our drug policy is indeed insane. That is, all presidential candidates except for one. The one exception is Ron Paul, who would decriminalize drugs.
This was one of the big reasons I was late to sign up for the Ron Paul revolution. I liked what he said about a return to constitutional government, about stopping the endless wars, about balancing the budget, about reigning in America's Empire and paying its bills at home. But what was with this idea of decriminalizing drugs? Wouldn't that make it worse?
Actually, studies have shown that it is exactly how we will one day solve the problem. And that's why even leaders on the religious right, like Pat Robertson, are touting it as a solution.
Imagine us trying to end the use of tobacco in this country by declaring war. Imagine arresting young people selling cigarettes on the street corners. Imagine policemen going into hospitals and arresting people dying of lung cancer and throwing them in jail. Imagine defoliating the tobacco fields of Virginia and North Carolina. Just how far would we have gotten?
Instead, we educated the nation and now the smoke has cleared.
Laws do not solve such problems. Prohibition of alcohol didn't work either. It created a criminal underclass that corrupted the American judicial system and ran some of our largest cities. Drugs are doing the same thing. Last month we discovered that a single border guard had been paid $ 5 million to let the drugs pass her station. According to a study by a Harvard economist decriminalizing drugs would pump more than $76 billion into the American economy.
Our country has the second highest incarceration rate in the world. Close to 1.5 million Americans are arrested each year for drug use. In the last twenty years almost half of all arrests in America were for marijuana possession or marijuana use. In most states, a three time felon will spend his whole life in prison at a cost of millions of dollars to taxpayers. We are warehousing people on a massive scale. To give you a sense of perspective, in the Soviet Union in1934, just before the Great Terror and the massive killing began in Stalin's famous Gulag camps, he had gathered close to one million prisoners. This is less than the population of our own prison system in America today.
Now, I am not for decriminalizing drugs because I want to use them. I have never tried marijuana or any other illegal substance, which is interesting when you consider that my name is Wead. But I know that our nation's war on drugs hasn't worked. And there is no use pretending otherwise.
I appreciate the good intentions of those who fought this war and their sacrifices and service and their wonderful ideas. For a time, it may have held back the tide and saved lives. But the stakes are higher than ever. Even more lives now hang in the balance.
I supported Ron Paul because of his prescient understanding of the American economy.
His warnings, which seemed farfetched when I first heard them, started happening right before my eyes. Now, I understand that what he has been saying about the war on drugs is equally true.
We are in trouble. It is time to do this right and quit playing politics with such a serious issue. It is time to do the things we need to do and get this done before another generation burns out.
Doug Wead is a New York Times best-selling author and a former adviser to two American presidents. He is now serving as senior adviser to the Ron Paul presidential campaign.
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