“Our nearly century-long experiment in banning marijuana has failed as abysmally as Prohibition did,” Nicolas Kristof wrote in 2010. With cannabis legalized for adult use in two states and for medical use in almost two dozen more, the war against cannabis seems to be at least slowing. Here are a few of the key reasons this War must come to an end, and now:

  1. It wastes billions instead of investing in education. California spends more money on prisons than it does on higher education. Is putting people in jail for possession of small amount of cannabis really the best use of our police force? In contrast, taxing cannabis and using that money for education would have a far more beneficial effect.
  2. The War on Drugs has hit the poverty-stricken and minorities the hardest. Black and Latino men are much more likely than whites to be stopped and searched and, when drugs are found, prosecuted.
  3. It fuels crime and empowers gangs. Cartels are black market growers are the only parties who benefit for keeping cannabis illegal.

It’s time to shift our focus from incarceration to public health and human rights. According to a new report put together by not one, but five Noble Prize-winning economists, high costs and unintended consequences of drug prohibitions are have negative effects on public health, safety, national security and law enforcement. The report urges world leaders to reframe their drug policies to focus on treatment and harm reduction instead. Thankfully, some world leaders are already ahead of the game.

"The pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global ‘war on drugs’ strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage," says the 82-page report. "These include mass incarceration in the US, highly repressive policies in Asia, vast corruption and political destabilization in Afghanistan and West Africa, immense violence in Latin America, an HIV epidemic in Russia, an acute global shortage of pain medication and the propagation of systematic human rights abuses around the world."

Here in the States, we have made our first steps toward a saner approach to drugs, at least to cannabis. “One advantage of our federal system,” Kristof writes, “is that when we have a failed policy, we can grope for improvements by experimenting at the state level.”

We may not yet be out of the dark, but we can at least now see the light.

Comment