To believe, as we long have, that the decriminalization of some drugs is preferable to the prohibition of them is not to adopt a stance of moral neutrality on the issue of drug abuse and drug addiction. It is instead a concession to reality, which even politicians must take into account from time to time. The reality is that drug prohibition has not produced the desired results; that it is not an effective means of managing drug abuse or drug addiction; that it creates enormously powerful economic incentives for domestic trafficking operations and allied cartels abroad; that incarceration is in many cases not the best way to turn a drug user or drug dealer into a citizen; that the human and financial costs of fighting a “war” on drugs are enormous, and that the martial rhetoric and assumptions associated with that effort are a menace to privacy and civil liberties; that fighting drug crime has become a ready excuse for police and prosecutors to abuse tools such as civil-asset forfeiture; that our focus on winning the so-called war distracts us from the much more important business of winning the peace by helping addicts and offenders reenter society as productive and valued citizens.
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I have spared you, even as I spared myself, an arithmetical consummation of my inquiry, but the data here cited instruct us that the cost of the drug war is many times more painful, in all its manifestations, than would be the licensing of drugs combined with intensive education of non-users and intensive education designed to warn those who experiment with drugs. We have seen a substantial reduction in the use of tobacco over the last 30 years, and this is not because tobacco became illegal but because a sentient community began, in substantial numbers, to apprehend the high cost of tobacco to human health, even as, we can assume, a growing number of Americans desist from practicing unsafe sex and using polluted needles in this age of AIDS. If 80 million Americans can experiment with drugs and resist addiction using information publicly available, we can reasonably hope that approximately the same number would resist the temptation to purchase such drugs even if they were available at a federal drugstore at the mere cost of production.