Foreign Policy Magazine Exposes Folly Of Marijuana Prohibition

[Editor’s note: The reason why the editor of Foreign Policy magazine Moises Naim’s recent column is significant is because for far too long the foreign policy community has been a willing conduit for exporting America’s wrongheaded and failed cannabis prohibition around the globe. But, the American dominance of the drug policy debate has started to wane over the last 8-10 years in quarters like the United Nations, and columns like Mr. Naim’s underscore the myriad reasons why America’s elected policymakers need to adopt a reform mindset–notably under an Obama administration–not status quo retrenchment into an unyielding, prohibition-centric cannabis policy.] The American prohibition on thinking smart in the drug war

The Washington consensus on drugs rests on two widely shared beliefs. The first is that the war on drugs is a failure. The second is that it cannot be changed.
Americans are a can-do people. They tend to believe that if something does not work, it needs to be fixed. Unless, that is, they are talking about the war on drugs. On this politically fraught issue, Washington’s elites and, indeed, the majority of the population, believe two contradictory things. First, 76 percent of Americans think the war on drugs launched in 1971 by President Richard Nixon has failed. Yet only 19 percent believe the central focus of antidrug efforts should be shifted from interdiction and incarceration to treatment and education. A full 73 percent of Americans are against legalizing any kind of drugs, and 60 percent oppose legalizing marijuana.
This “it doesn’t work, but don’t change it” incongruity is not just a quirk of the U.S. public. It is a manifestation of how the prohibition on drugs has led to a prohibition on rational thought. “Most of my colleagues know that the war on drugs is bankrupt,” a U.S. senator told me, “but for many of us, supporting any form of decriminalization of drugs has long been politically suicidal.”
As a result of this utter failure to think, the United States today is both the world’s largest importer of illicit drugs and the world’s largest exporter of bad drug policy. The U.S. government expects, indeed demands, that its allies adopt its goals and methods and actively collaborate with U.S. drug-fighting agencies. This expectation is one of the few areas of rigorous continuity in U.S. foreign policy over the last three decades.
A second, and more damaging, effect comes from the U.S. emphasis on curtailing the supply abroad rather than lowering the demand at home. The consequence: a transfer of power from governments to criminals in a growing number of countries. In many places, narcotraffickers are the major source of jobs, economic opportunity, and money for elections.
The global economic crisis will only intensify these trends as battered economies shrink and illicit trade becomes the only way for millions of people to make a living. Mexico’s attorney general reckons that U.S. consumers buy $10 billion worth of drugs from his country’s cartels each year, a business that propelled Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, to Forbes magazine’s latest list of the world’s billionaires. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, all that money allows the two main cartels to train, equip, and pay for a highly motivated army of 100,000 that almost equals Mexico’s armed forces in size and often outguns them. And this ascendancy of the drug cartels is a global problem. The opium trade is equal to 30 percent of Afghanistan’s legal economy, and from Burma to Bolivia, Moldova to Guinea-Bissau, drug kingpins have become influential economic and political actors.
Fortunately, there are some signs that the blind support for prohibition is beginning to wane among key Washington elites. One surprising new convert? The Pentagon. Senior U.S. military officers know both that the war on drugs is bankrupt and that it is undermining their ability to succeed in other important missions, such as winning the war in Afghanistan. When Gen. James L. Jones, a former Marine Corps commandant and supreme allied commander in Europe, was asked last November why the United States was losing in Afghanistan, he answered: “The top of my list is the drugs and narcotics, which are, without question, the economic engine that fuels the resurgent Taliban, and the crime and corruption in the country. . . . We couldn’t even talk about that in 2006 when I was there. That was not a topic that anybody wanted to talk about, including the U.S.” Jones is now U.S. President Barack Obama’s national security advisor.
But such views have set off fierce clashes between military commanders newly focused on creating peaceful economic opportunities for Afghan families and the U.S. drug warriors set on eradicating Afghanistan’s major cash crop at any cost. What’s more, inertia alone almost guarantees strong support for drug eradication from the massive bureaucracy that lives off the tens of billions of taxpayer dollars that have funded the war on drugs for decades. The opinions of these drug warriors are immune to data: After decades of eradication efforts around the world, neither the acreage of land used to grow drugs nor the tonnage produced has shrunk.
But prohibition at any cost is becoming increasingly hard to defend. As the drug-fueled escalation of violence in Mexico spills across the border into the United States, the American public’s willingness to ignore or tolerate policies that don’t work is bound to decline. And the consequences of failure are already on mounting display: According to the U.S. National Drug Intelligence Center, Mexican drug cartels have established operations in 195 American cities. It is much harder to ignore the collateral damage of the war on drugs when it happens in your neighborhood.
That is the case in many other countries where the nefarious side effects of U.S. drug policies have long been felt. Three of Latin America’s most respected former presidents, Brazil’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Colombia’s César Gaviria, and Mexico’s Ernesto Zedillo, recently chaired a commission that came out in favor of drastic changes in the war on drugs—including decriminalization of marijuana for personal use. The commission, on which I sat, spent more than a year reviewing the best available evidence from experts in public health, medicine, law enforcement, the military, and the economics of drug trafficking. One of the commission’s main conclusions is that governments urgently need options beyond eradication, interdiction, criminalization, and incarceration to limit the social consequences of drugs. But though smart thinkers increasingly propose confronting the drug curse as a public health crisis—more options are in the commission’s report at www.drugsanddemocracy.org—real alternatives have found no space in a policy debate stalemated between absolute prohibition and wholesale legalization.
The addiction to a failed policy has long been fueled by the self-interest of a relatively small prohibitionist community—and enabled by the distraction of the American public. But as the costs of the drug war spread from remote countries and U.S. inner cities to the rest of society, spending more to cure and prevent than to eradicate and incarcerate will become a much more obvious idea. Smarter thinking on drugs? That should be the real no-brainer.
Moisés Naím is editor in chief of Foreign Policy [Editor’s note: emphasis in column added]

0 thoughts

  1. I do not drink beer but do not advocate people who do should be put in jail and destroyed..
    It is just a fact the years of propaganda has worked.
    Cherokee Fred Jesus

  2. To Buc #41:
    My plan focuses on distribution only. Growers would not be prosecuted, only those who distribute from the growers. My plan would be to completely legalize simple cultivation and possession of any amount of the drug part of the plant at the site of cultivation. The idea is that these drugs are so easy to grow, there is no point in trying to police cultivation. The growers are typically the poorest and most vulnerable. Leave them alone.
    Simple possession *at the site of cultivation* of any of the crude parts of the plants, raw opium, coca leaf or cannabis flower and leaf would be completely legal. Possession of small amounts away from the place of cultivation would also be completely legal. Processing of these for purposes of making cocaine or heroine would be a felony no matter where it was done. Cannabis flower and leaf traditionally use very little processing unless you want to count hashish. Distribution of these could be policed to varying degrees. Cannabis is struggling for legalization and commercialization of flower and leaf with taxation being an argument. Raw opium has an old history of being a social problem all by itself, let’s say we keep that illegal for distribution. Coca leaf could conceivably have a place for legal distribution, but how inevitable would it be that people process what makes it to the public to produce cocaine as”home brewers” much like meth is processed now? Should coca leaf be legal for commercial distribution? At one time coca syrup was what Coca Cola was all about. Should we go back to that?
    The plant to most benefit from complete freedom of cultivation would be cannabis. It could easily be cultivated for fiber and seed using any of the strains traditiaonlly available all over the world, include the early United States. No legendary “drug free”, “industrial hemp” would be necessary. Possession of the flower and leaf of those cultivators would be completely legal. It would also be a nod to the army of home growers of cannabis who take $50 worth of food out of the mouths of dope dealers every time they grow an ounce for personal consumption.
    Distribution is the best place to nail down what scares people the most and what makes them prohibitionists. They fear a powerlessness in the face people who cannot put drugs away. Their fears deserve to be confronted, but not by persecuting users whoever they are and for whatever reasons they consume the drugs.

  3. NORML, you should add editors notes to those commenters who claim legalization will never happen. Its discouraging, and also highly short sighted. If you think that its impossible for MJ to become legalized, thats fine. Shut up and keep being a sheep who only follows and never takes a stand.
    Everyone here is for the support of NORML and we feel that legalization is not only on the horizon, but its at our door…
    baaa……

  4. Chad P #46,
    Way to contradict yourself. Your sitting there telling us that there is not a chance for legalization, but yet you sit there and tell everyone to take a stand and voice their opinions… Maybe you should take your own advice and start doing something about this drug war, just like everyone else on this blog is. It’s negative people like you that’s the reason were still in this position today.
    My advice to you, get off YOUR couch and get YOUR head out of YOUR tv and start being proactive.

  5. #46 If their are people who steadily fight then their is always hope. We are gaining ground how ever 2 steeps forward 3 steeps back is what is going on I believe how ever to prevent this and to over come we must keep the fight up regardless of how it is looking after all would you just quit like they want you to like a dieing dog? Or would you rather keep fighting with everything we continue to do? We should not let the prohibitionists , Govt. or even the Drug companies get us down after all the Drug companies , prohibitionists and govt. are really the ones who are not only hurting America , Infrenging on our rights and even allowing fellow Americans deaths through man made substances that they profit from. We need to continue to do what we know is right and just and that is to keep on fighting till there is no one left to continue the fight or until they legalize and tax if not decriminalize Cannabis/marijuana. In short let us show them we are strong in numbers and will not go quietly into the night nor will we be swept under the rug sort of say with out fighting. Remember we are not just fighting for our selves but of that of our children and their children… We are fighting this not only to end prohibition but to actually have our rights which is ours the People of America. After all how many more lives are they going to waste? How much more money are they going to provide the cartel? How much more money are they going to take from us taxpaying Americans? The answer who knows but the advice I and many of others say is is simple we continue our fight till we prevail …. We must keep fighting for our rights and that of our future generations to come….. And being we are fighting for a worthy cause we shall in the long run WIN….. So lets show them just how strong we are and show them we are not going to be swept under a rug and shall fight till we no longer can…..Together we stand strong but seperately we are sure to fail…. Lets not give up but instead continue to do what we must and show them we are Americans strong by numbers and free and are not afraid to keep up fighting for our rights….

  6. This is what I got back from my congressman on HR 2943.
    Thank you for contacting me regarding the use of marijuana for medical purposes. I appreciated hearing your thoughts on this issue.
    The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) currently prohibits the sale or use of marijuana. Several states, including Michigan, have enacted state laws, in violation of federal law, allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to prohibit these practices, contending there should be no medical exception. This case was ultimately decided in 2001 by the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled that federal law does not allow for a medical exception to the CSA that would permit distribution of marijuana to patients who claim a medical benefit from its use. The ruling struck down a California law that allowed groups to distribute marijuana to patients who have a doctor’s approval.
    On June 11, 2009, Congressman Barney Frank introduced the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act (H.R. 2835). This legislation would prevent federal authorities from prosecuting pharmacies, growers and users of medical marijuana in states where the use of the substance for medical reasons is legal.
    Before action is taken on this legislation, I would support hearings to consider how the federal restrictions on marijuana use should be modified. H.R. 2835 has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Please be assured I will keep your thoughts in mind should this legislation be considered.
    Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. If there is anything further my staff or I can do to assist you, please do not hesitate to call on me again.
    Sincerely,
    BART STUPAK
    Member of Congress
    After I saw this I had to resend him a letter saying this:
    BART STUPAK,
    Their is currently a bill that is going through the process titled HR 2943 which may be found here:
    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-2943
    It is in the Referred to Committee phase in which is going at this time for House Judiciary and House Energy and Commerce which you happen to be apart of. Bill HR 2943 is a Bill that is for Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2009 which was first put into the process of trying to become a bill as of June 19th 2009 and is still awaiting to get out of the Referred to Committee phase. If this bill is approved or a bill like wise it shall help Michigan solve some problems such as the illegal sales of marijuana which the cartel makes over 60+% annual profit from as well as can produce extra money that may go towards education if legalized and taxed to name but a few. I and many others of people who have helped put you in office hope that you would at least read and do what you think is right on this instead of being one of the people who just wants to keep marijuana in prohibition that is taking up our law enforcements time that can be used towards more sever issues that they are faced with as well as future problems in which they are needed as well as to help the American taxpayer save Billions annually instead of foolishly wasting Billions annually through prohibition. I am simply saying and asking that you at least look at HR 2943 while keeping an open mind and think that if a bill such as or along the lines as such is logical and can help our state as well as America. Road Island thinks so and is doing something at least and in short I would at least care for Michigan to at least view and help Bill HR2943 or other bills such as HR 2943. Once again here is the url that is tracking HR 2943 :
    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-2943
    I hope you make the rest of the people of Michigan as well as this nation proud by letting our voice be heard as I know that you are a person of the people of Michigan as well as that of our nation and request you to help We THE PEOPLE of our nation . Please at least view HR2943 and help it get out of the Referred to Committee phase where we the people of not just Michigan but of our nation may have our voices heard…..
    Thank you for your time….
    Regards,
    Jeremy
    I hope he understands and does something being he is on one or both of these House Judiciary and
    House Energy and Commerce. The HR 2943 bill is still in the Referred to Committee phase and hopefully he will help get this moving and if he does nothing I simply wont vote for him again…..Same as if he votes against it……

  7. THE HARMONIOUS USE OF LIBERTY IS ACQUIRED ONLY BY A LONG MISUSE OF ITS BENEFITS.
    There is a small group of prohibs who have misused liberty’s benefits for a very long time. But, “Who’s miscarriage is that,” when We the People continually grant our most complete possible liberty to imperfect men and women who can, so easily, be controlled and manipulated by that small group…who would clip the wings of liberty.
    IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR PLAIN AND SIMPLE ANSWER…HERE IT IS.
    “I religiously use Manna, our gift from God, as Holy Sacrament for CDXX Communion.” That’s it! I need no other reason. Genesis I, Article I. Thank God for separation of church and state, and the Constitution of the United States of America.
    IT MATTERS NOT WHO WE ARE, OR WHERE WE’RE FROM.
    We are “One People.” It’s We the People, “AS ONE,” who must put an end to this vicious cycle of abusive governmental authority…NOW! We cannot afford to put off until tomorrow, what WE can do today. If you can’t vote…go plant yourself on your “ELECTED REPRESENTATIVE’S” door-step. Make yourself a fixture. Be the squeaky wheel, and demand the oil. Let them know, in no uncertain terms,”NO OIL…NO VOTE.” They understand that language.
    Perhaps a national, or even a worldwide Petition Mandamus would be in order. Understand…”WE’RE NOT ASKING…WE’RE TELLING”…and…we’re demanding a common sense approach from all concerned.

  8. This might be a crazy idea but we learn history for a reason. History tells us effective tactics and ineffective, learning from mistakes and good ideas. Including civil rights protests. Rosa Parks stood up for her rights not releasing her seat for racial reasons, knowing the consequences. This was a corner stone for the black civil rights movement. With this in perspective, sometimes you have to break the law for anything to change. We have the same power in us. We should learn from influential civil right leaders who gave everything and risked it all including life to see justice. What have we done exactly anyway. Wrote some letters? Donate a little money? Don’t get me wrong, these are good things, but not effective alone. We need leaders to rise up Publicly and say “These are my rights as well as yours!” I would gladly give up my freedom and spend some jail time to see our dreams fulfilled. MANFOR MANTIS, Preach on brother. Asking politely has failed. Now we must show them the seriousness of our combined power. Tell a friend, tell a stranger, tell the world “I use cannabis, and ain’t no body gonna tell me I don’t have the right or judge me as a criminal.” Anyone can type a letter. Changes are made from actions!

  9. Here,here! Come all ye listen, To the tale me has for ye. A long time ago, In the not so distant past. There were a few gentlemen, That whom so decided, to keep the money flowing in their direction and the rest of us would be the serf’s of the Country, Seeings that the Country was bankrupt and had no money, But boy did we have resources and a labor force to build a nation for war,and the control of the world, If we just lead and direct and let them think of freedom but will still be a slave not of bondage but of their own free choice to chose but not know of the choice, just of the requirement ‘s that we demand and nothing short of dictatorship. This is how we will enslave a nation of sheeple, by complacency. Every time we try other more aggressive or direct enforcement we end up losing, not this time though, I believe we may have done it, if they just don’t believe it’s possible then really don’t have proof, then we WIN. DO YOU KNOW OF THE CHOICES I SPEAK OF, Then you need to ask and learn all that you may, of all whom may be helpful to your true education, in the art of true freedom. ONLY A SOVEREIGN MAN MAY BE ELECTED TO OFFICE, What is sovereignty, what does it have to do with me. Shouldn’t I be a Sovereign National Citizen, when I’m born? NO?? What does those numbers, on my birth certificate really mean. You get the picture, ask the RIGHT questions, everything with a grain of salt, but not to be misled either. Sometimes the truth is in front of you and we don’t see it for the spite of our nose. PEACE AL

  10. The Kings have always ruled over the people…some with brute force. But the truth of the matter is…the one thing the King has always “FEARED” is the People rising up against him. I wonder if the King is aware of the dangers that face him today.
    REAL AMERICANS will only take just so much shit before it’s time to rumble. Of course…AMERICANS DON’T WANT TO FIGHT AMERICANS…AND WILL DO ANYTHING TO AVOID THE FIGHT…AS EVEDENCED UP UNTIL NOW. I hope the King is not foolish enough to think that it won’t happen…
    because…you play with the American bull…you will get the American horn. That’s not a threat…it’s a simple fact.

  11. 46 Chad P
    Check out the name of the pharmaceutical company, and where that company originates from.
    Surprise! From the most dangerous drug, right down to a simple asperine

  12. I read that two Mormon Sect men were murdered by the drug cartel in Mexico. yesterday. Each of them have five children left behind (I’m not sure how many wives and people were mocking them on the www about that). Sad.

  13. 66 Wendy……..Manny here!
    I hope they weren’t elders. What a tragedy. Hey some people are “truely evil.” I told Louie (my chauffer and body gaurd) about this. I’m too much of a gentleman to repeat what he said. At any rate…the editor probobly wouldn’t have allowed the posting. Louie is quite familiar with the 15,000 abandoned mine shafts in the State of Nevada. Louie was with me in Las Vegas.

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