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The eternal Drug War

The Afghanistan War seems interminable. It is the longest hot war in U.S. history. Europe’s Hundred Years War remains the world record holder, but things moved slower back then. Pentagon officials appear to dream of setting a new record in Kabul.

Meanwhile, our War on Drugs is quietly building its own longevity record. This war dates back to the Nixon administration and shows little sign of abating.

This war isn’t going well. Our marijuana use keeps climbing, despite the Drug War. The Golden State grows so much cannabis that even if California’s voters had passed Proposition 19 last November, local smugglers might have been largely unaffected.

Nationally, however, Big Liquor was truly worried about that vote. Not only would legal pot have cut into its business, but a recent study concluded that alcohol is even more socially destructive than heroin. Marijuana seems tame by comparison.

The prison industry was also anxious about the outcome of California’s vote. Current drug laws keep those for-profit jails brimming with small-time users who pose no threat to anyone. This front of the war keeps plenty of cops, guards, prosecutors, defenders, wardens and builders and suppliers of prisons out of the unemployment lines.

The United States would do well to consider the example of other countries. Portugal, though a financial basket case, leads the way on drug reform. It has decriminalized just about everything and has reaped the benefits of less crime, less law enforcement and even less drug usage. Switzerland leads in treating heroin medically instead of criminally, with a similar happy outcome. Canada is following suit, over stern U.S. protests. President Barack Obama has promised vastly expanded needle exchanges, but little has happened.

Meanwhile our aggressive cocaine eradication assault in Colombia has driven much of the production to Peru. A similar assault on key poppy provinces in Afghanistan has successfully driven heroin production elsewhere. So, attacking sources of drug supplies works about as well now as similar approaches did with alcohol during Prohibition.

Despite the Drug War’s horrific casualties, most elected leaders are fearful of seeking peace. Some of their campaign donors would lose profits, and their opponents could stir up fear and hate. Sounds kind of like the War on Terror.


Columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk.

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