Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Friday, October 21, 2016

Thirty years ago, a college kid in Kentucky was caught growing marijuana plants in his closet. That turned him into a convicted felon, and though he’s been on the right side of the law ever since, he still can’t vote. On any job application, he must check the box next to “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”

All this misery for growing a plant whose leaves the past three presidents admit having smoked.

We know this story because Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky keeps telling it. That a Southern Republican probably running for president is condemning such prosecutions as unfair speaks volumes on the collapsing support for the war on marijuana — part of the larger war on drugs.

Two states, Colorado and Washington, have already legalized recreational pot. And the Colorado Supreme Court has been considering a question no one would have dreamed of asking two decades ago: whether an employer may fire a worker for smoking pot.

So what do we do about the rest of the war — the war on heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and the other nastier stuff? The answer is legalize them, too.

“What is the benefit, what have we derived from this drug war that even begins to offset the horrors we inflict on ourselves via this policy?” asks Dean Becker, a legalization advocate. He is editor of To End The War On Drugs, a collection of politically diverse views published by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Over the past 40 years, the war has put more than 45 million Americans under arrest and cost taxpayers $1 trillion. And what do we have to show for it? Drugs on the street are cheaper, more powerful and more abundant than ever.

The war has fueled gang wars in our cities and enriched the criminal foreign cartels. It has created a vile class system, turning millions of poor and working-class Americans into felons while largely turning a blind eye toward users of the same drugs in suburban cul-de-sacs.

And again, it’s all been for naught. This summer, counties circling Houston, where Becker lives, have seen eight busts of major marijuana-growing operations. Law enforcement just stumbled across them.

“There are some indications they were run by Mexicans sent by the cartels,” Becker, formerly a member of the U.S. Air Force security police, told me.

And what does the arrest of a drug trafficker do? It creates more business for the other drug traffickers.

As the conservative economist Milton Friedman once put it, “if you look at the drug war from a purely economic point of view, the role of the government is to protect the drug cartel.”

Wouldn’t legalizing all drugs set off a new explosion of drug use? Good question. Undoubtedly, some would try drugs for the first time. But regulating the sale could limit the problems. Portugal decriminalized drugs in 2000 and saw little rise in use.

Becker is not a big fan of small steps in easing the drug laws, though he thinks that’s better than nothing. He wants full legalization.

Just decriminalizing drugs — that is, not arresting people possessing them but keeping their sale illegal — does not take criminals out of the business. And it stands in the way of regulating the drug making now done by untrained chemists in primitive labs. Furthermore, illegal businesses don’t get taxed.

Prohibition of the 1920s was “decrim.” Alcoholic beverages couldn’t be legally sold, but one could drink them at home. A lot of good that did.

Make drugs legal; regulate them; and tax them. The final destination for the war on drugs should be oblivion, the sooner the better.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at [email protected] To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

Want more political news and analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!

  • TZToronto

    I have no problem with legalizing all drugs. One problem, though, is that there will still be a black market in drugs if the price on the black market is lower than the price in the government-approved store (whether one run by the government–state or federal–or the corner store). No tax in the black market looks attractive at first glance, but one never knows what’s in the black market product.

    • I agree with legalizing all drugs. Instead of criminalization, we should use that money for treatment centers. I don’t think the black market will be able to compete with legal drugs. If we have regulations and laws that go after those smuggling and selling black market, just as we should for firearms, there would be little to gain from doing so, and so much to lose.

      • TZToronto

        I just checked to see if Hell froze over. Can it actually be that you and I agree on something??? The only black market smuggling of otherwise legal products that seems to have much of an impact is the smuggling of cigarettes from native factories on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Canada border into Canada. Estimates of black market cigarettes in Ontario and Quebec range between 15% and 25% of the total tobacco market. The untaxed cigarettes (who knows what’s in them?) sell for a small fraction of the price of legal brands.

        • Anything that can be smuggled without having to pay taxes, especially if those taxes are exceptionally high, become profitable. I do think the untaxed smokes are exactly the same as the legal ones, just without the tax. From what I hear, the prices for a pack of smokes in Canada is unbelievable, mostly taxes. And the governments highly tax these items because they deem them to be bad for you. Shouldn’t an individual have the right to decide for themselves?

          • TZToronto

            In Canada (and probably in the U.S.) it’s illegal to sell cigarettes without a tax stamp on the package–unless it’s sold on a native reservation. A lot of the cigarettes that are smuggled are actually made and packaged on the reservations. Those are the ones that I’d be worried about smoking. I see tobacco taxes as similar to gasoline and liquor taxes. They exist simply to put money into the governments’ general revenues–kind of like outrageous parking tickets. I think the last thing governments want is for everyone to stop smoking, drinking, parking, and driving. Of course, they have to make nice noises about kicking cigarettes, being responsible drinkers, and taking public transit (if there is any).

      • sleepvark

        kenndeb, well said! I’m shocked, of course, but gratified at the idea that you are capable of such a positive contribution to the discussion.
        Keep going, don’t stop. I for one welcome constructive ideas, even if they come from you.

      • joe schmo

        Sorry kenndeb….it didn’t work in Europe:/ I always used to think the same way until my good friend in Europe told me otherwise……

        • I can’t say that I know much of anything about drug laws abroad, but I did think Portugal has had a good degree of success in legalization. I also do like to point out to liberals that this is not Europe. I think it is a better alternative to what has been happening. The war on drugs was as bad as prohibition. Alcohol is the most highly available and the most dangerous of all drugs, yet we are able to consume. I think if drugs were regulated, and taxed heavily, it would be no different than current liquor stores, and the criminal element would be removed. Instead of costing taxpayers money to arrest, prosecute, and house, we use that money, along with the new drug taxes, to pay for treatment facilities. It should be a health problem, and not a criminal one.
          I also would like to submit that drug laws are more government interference into our lives and freedoms. Americans should have the right to do anything that is not doing harm to another or another’s property. Americans in their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness have neglected watching over their government, hence we are starting to lose those freedoms.

          • joe schmo

            Absolutely, the Swiss program was working as far as rehabilitation goes. There was a higher precentage of success rates but… They also did try it here. I think it was in Chicago. Police officers were mentors, the drug users were given housing and jobs, however; initially it did not work and the majority of druggies returned to their old lifestyle.

            I would agree, that government interference through drug laws is an infringement, but there is a fine line there. The point is how to not get a person to OD or kill someone innocent while high. Pot is the least of it and it should be allowed throughout the U.S. for medicinal purposes. But like every good thing, it can be abused….. Heroin, Crack, Cocaine, Ecstasy, Meth……hmmmm another story. We know many people who used to snort Cocaine as young people. Many have already died of lung cancer, have sinus problems or other health problems. So not sure how we should approach the whole drug issue. Yes, it might curb the cartels and diffuse their multi-million dollar business but that can easily be cured by completely closing up the border and not allowing anyone to cross over.

  • David

    I have pondered that question since William F. Buckley the well known yachtsman and thesaurus owner, proposed it 30 years ago. When he first wrote about it you could get ephedra pills at truck stops that would perk you up, they made them illegal because 9 people who abused them died over the course of 10 years. More Americans will die in hospitals from being given the wrong drugs while I write this. Immediately after ephedra was gone it was replaced by crystal meth at the company I worked for. I don’t know the answer. I know pot should never have been madè illegal. When I was young, I am 61 now, a lot of kids parents had prescriptions for uppers and downers, but lived well, owned businesses, raised kids who went to college and lived the American Dream quite well. Now, the replacements for those scrips are terrible, really addictive drugs that prevent users from leading normal lives. Somehow I see an analogy with us arming terrorist groups worldwide and then being attacked and terrified by them. I have read that a greater percent of Americans drank during prohibition thán before or after it, because some people are tittilated by doing risky things. I think that the ones who are going to go off the deep end and lose jobs and families are going to do it regardless of governmental meddling. I have known more people ruined by alcohol and killed by cigarettes then dead or homeless or whatever by drugs. I did know several people who committed suicide or were commited to mental institutions ( before. Reagan put the mentally ill in their proper place, which is the bushes and under bridges by your home) from LSD. And like I have said since 1967 ” LSD, it’s not for everybody”. I hope they can end the drug war, because without the tax dollars of the rich the burden of endless wars is hard on us.

  • tdm3624

    Decriminalize drugs, put a small tax on them, and use that revenue to help with rehab.

  • Dale

    Are you all crazy or just stupid? Legalizing pot is one thing and I am for it. Legalizing Heroin, Opium and Meth is way too off the page. Holland separates the junkies from the rest of it’s citizens, supplies them with drugs and just lets them die. A good deal for all. There is no rehab for a junkie.

    • joe schmo

      Exactly….Switzerland was doing the same. They found out it didn’t work:)

    • No hope for a junkie? And here I thought liberals were all love and tolerance. Nah, I already knew that was a load of BS. You might be surprised as to how many addicts have kicked the habit, and moved on with their lives. Treatment only works for those that actually want to quit. And there are many, many functioning addicts that hold jobs, and pay their taxes. The really nasty drugs, that have the highest addiction rates are legal. Alcohol and tobacco are probably the hardest drugs to kick, yet they are perfectly legal. As a liberal, where is your love, peace, and compassion for your fellow man?

  • Sand_Cat

    But would Rand Paul vote for the taxes?

  • Dale

    No, there is no hope for a junkie. Whatever made you think I was a liberal?
    Moderate is the call. You be surprised at how how many junkies die under a bridge by their own hand. Are you one of the “functioning addicts”? You know the ones that have a job and pay taxes. Most courts mandate rehab that only waste tax dollars. Have known of courts mandating it 3 times for the same person only to have them wind up in prison because they were back on the junk. Black market will never pay taxes on their product. Junkies will always steal to support their habit. I don’t call drunks addicts, I call them weak losers.