By Mark David Blum, Esq.
Giggling like a schoolgirl, my President responded to a huge public demand for comment on ending prohibition with a summary dismissal of the issue. He did not present an argument for or against the subject; he just flatly refused to even discuss the idea. For a President who ran on a platform of “change” and “hope”, he is being quickly moved to the middle ground and manifesting the bad habits of all his predecessors.
First we need to separate the two issues that are being jammed into one. Our nation has a problem with drugs. There are highly potent dangerous chemicals that are being consumed by the population. We need education, regulation, and to get control over our nation’s drug problem. At the same time, we need to recognize the second problem and that the explosion of violence and corruption that comes about as a result of our current drug policy. The stalwarts and adherents to the current policy insist on mixing up these two problems, calling them one, and then insisting on throwing more money and resources despite overwhelming proof positive that the policy is a fiscal and functional failure.
Second, the nation’s drug policy is taking our President away from his promise of transparency and honesty in budgeting. Former President George Bush funded the Iraq war outside his normal budget by the use of supplemental spending bills. When President Obama put his budget together, he included the costs of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and showed a massive back breaking total budget necessary just to get through September. He proudly proclaimed by including these war costs in the overall budget that he was showing the true cost to the nation of these wars and not hiding behind separate spending bills.
In the past two days, President Obama has shown that he is not so much about supporting transparency. All he is doing is hiding a different ‘war’. While he may include Iraq and Afghanistan in his budget, he has stepped outside that budget and made secondary promises for the war on drugs. First, he pledged additional billions of dollars and manpower to engage and intervene in the drug war along the Mexico border. Then, he pledged billions of dollars to Afghan farmers to grow crops other than poppies. These extraordinary expenditures are being hidden from the suffering American taxpayer.
America is broke. We are in a massive tailspin and our ship of State is about to crash on the rocks. My President came to me and to the American people and asked for solutions and ideas about how to right the Ship of State. When overwhelming numbers of educated people bring up the issue of our current drug policy, they are treated like fools and dismissed.
We need to have this discussion, Mr. President. The first question we need to ask is whether we live in a nation where your neighbor or your government has the right to peek in your windows and pass judgment on what intoxicants you consume; be they beer, wine or whiskey. Assuming in a free nation such as ours you can find such a justification of that invasive level of meddling, the question becomes how do you handle the situation. Presently, we use sin taxes as a means of social change and control. We break the financial backs of cigarette smokers and alcohol consumers to punish them for whatever it is we think they deserve to punished. We do so by the use of taxation and regulation. The market is controlled by the State. Consumers are limited to adults only. At the same time, we protect our population by assuring quality control in the manufacture and distribution of those products.
Unlike other intoxicants in society, our current policy has turned over market control to organized crime. The public has no way to control distribution. Government has no means by which it can regulate who is consuming these intoxicants. Quality control is left to smugglers, cartels, and bath tub manufacturers. We have left ourselves defenseless while at the same time, generating huge sums of money to bolster criminal enterprises. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was not an alcohol related crime but rather an alcohol policy related crime. By keeping organized crime in control of our nation’s drug market, we have invited onto ourselves the massive violence and bursting prison populations that we experience today. Criminals do not care if drugs are sold to children or if children are selling drugs to adults. Criminals do not care about using high powered weapons on street corners. Criminals certainly do not care if people are hurt or maimed in the distribution process or use of the product. Criminals only care if the money is there and our current policy makes for plenty of cash for criminal enterprises.
The next issue involves the war itself. When you engage a nation in war, there has to be certain defined issues. What, for example, is the end game? When will the war be over? Is there a single citizen in this nation who believes that there will come a day when the entire nation will be drug free? Does anybody believe that there are enough dollars and manpower to completely seal off the nation from drugs and that nobody anywhere will use or possess drugs? If you are going to have a war, then you need to have an exit strategy. Let me remind you that we cannot even keep drugs out of our most secure prisons where there are no rights, where searches are conducted constantly, and where monitoring of the population is vigilant. If our prisons are not drug free, then how can we see an exit strategy where we will be able to keep drugs out of a free society.
Also when on a war footing, remember who is the enemy. We are not at war with inanimate objects. We are not at war with drugs any more than we are at war with rocking chairs. When we talk about a drug war, we are talking about a war against our own people. Americans; otherwise productive citizens are being carted off to prisons by the truckload. Our nation’s prison industry is the one growing sector in our otherwise dying economy. Half the prison beds now occupied are filled by drug related convicts. For those who argue we don’t spend enough or arrest enough, let me assure you that our police agencies are operating at maximum efficiency with the best equipment and are making more arrests than ever. Yet the line of people who are next to be injected into the criminal justice system is endless. The war we speak of when we speak of a war on drugs is really a war on Americans. We are committing suicide as a nation.
Some folks on the legalization side of the debate argue we should legalize and then tax drugs. I am not in favor of a tax on drugs any more than I am in favor of a tax on anything. Taxes are a necessary evil but I am not a fan of taxation and oppose it at every turn. If we consider for just a moment not the potential revenues from ending prohibition but just focus on the tax savings, that alone merits investigation. As a nation we spend more than $100 billion in our war on drugs. Between police agencies, prisons, welfare, and lost productivity I doubt we could even calculate our actual annual losses. Obviously we are not making any progress at reducing demand except through the educational system. But for what we are spending, our war policy is a luxury we just can no longer afford. If you want to isolate a single government program that yields less positive results for the billions spent, then our drug policy is ripe for analysis. Support for this position comes from all sectors who have studied the problem; from the Heritage Foundation to Harvard University. Every study and analysis shows we are spending huge sums of money and not succeeding in the slightest in prevailing on this war against Americans. Forget what the drugs can bring in as revenue enhancers; just focus for a moment on the costs of this war and what could be saved by a massive rethink in how we do business.
I welcomed the incoming Obama Administration because I really believed he was going to bring about serious change in how our nation does business. He is begging my support for his huge expenditures in the stimulus package, the TARP program, and his near four trillion dollar budget. My President is talking about making major overhauls and completely restructuring our nation’s health care system, educational system, and tax code. He does not blink at bringing about and encouraging mass social upheaval for what he believes is a greater good. So why does he remain so ignorant and closed minded on a subject that so obviously in need of attention. Tens of millions of Americans are impacted daily by the war on drugs and the costs are off the charts.
To make a joke of the issue is a finger in the eye of all those who have given the issue serious consideration and see that our policy is a failure. It is a shame that the President opted to insult so many who have studied the issue in such detail. Our nation is not best served by closed minded arrogance and a refusal to even discuss the situation. My President projected himself as open minded and that nothing was off the table. Query what changed upon his inauguration and why he cannot handle the issue of ending prohibition like a mature adult. Real lives are at stake, real dollars are being spent, and real progress remains as elusive as ever. That is not funny.