Mead on the Failing War on Drugs

Walter Russell Mead has an interesting post on the failure of the drug war, and what might come next. This passage sums up so much of what is wrong with the current approach.

The Drug War, with an impact stretching far beyond the inner cities, is one of America’s worst policies. It costs billions we don’t have; it promotes the growth of transnational criminal gangs and supports large black markets in money and arms that terrorists as well as drug lords can use; if fills the prisons and it hasn’t stopped either the use of existing illegal drugs or the development of new ones. . . .

What we are doing now isn’t working. My old CFR colleague and Coast Guard official Steve Flynn used to say that if terrorists wanted to smuggle a nuclear warhead into the United States their best bet would be to hide it in a shipment of cocaine. Since our interdiction rate is so low, the bomb would have an excellent chance of getting through.

The drug war inevitably leads to corruption in the forces recruited to fight it. It erodes civil liberties. It diverts law enforcement resources from other tasks. In a society which believes that lap dancers in strip bars are exercising their constitutionally protected right of free expression and that virtually any government interference in the termination of unborn life is an obscene and inexcusable violation of the right to privacy, it is hard to find good reasons why government should have the right to tell us what chemicals to put in our bloodstreams.

This is all too true. The question is what to do about it. Here Mead offers some caution. Marijuana legalization may be an easy call (at least for us non-politicians). Moving toward legalization of other drugs could be more difficult. Still, even accounting for Mead’s cautionary notes, it’s hard to believe legalization would be worse than what we have now.