06-02-2011 by Linda S. Carbonell
Beginning in the early 1990′s and culminating in a major piece for The National Review in 2004, William F. Buckley, one of America’s foremost conservatives, advocated the legalization of drugs. His conversion began when one of his sisters was fighting cancer and asked him to help her obtain marijuana for her chemo reactions. It was completed when he crunched the numbers. No decent conservative could support spending billions of dollars around the world on the drug war and turn his back on a really good revenue source.
Of course, Buckley was a real conservative, not one of these “social engineers” who thinks political power should be used to impose a state religion through the back door. Buckley’s position has been endorsed, finally, by a major international panel whose formal report is due out today.
The panel consisted of former U. N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, former U. S. Republican official George P. Schultz, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Columbia, writers Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, British mega-mogul Richard Branson and the Prime Minister of Greece, Giorgos Papandreou. The interested parties who should have been included were representatives from Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Asian fronts of the drug war.
The panel made the same recommendation that William F. Buckley did – stop punishing users, legalized, regulate and tax drugs the way we do alcohol and tobacco, and increase treatment options for users.
The United States, which is the leader of the war on drugs, came under the greatest criticism. Former Columbian President Cesar Gaviria, whose country was the battleground for so much of our war on drugs, told the Associated Press “We hope this country at least starts to think there are alternatives. We don’t see the U.S. evolving in a way that is compatible with our long term interests.”
Of course, the administration issued the usual American response, saying that the report was misguided. “Drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated. Making drugs more available – as this report suggests – will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe.” siad Rafael Lemairtre, spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. They cited statistics showing a decline in U. S. drug use compared to 30 years ago, with a 46% decrease in cocaine use among young adults in the past five years.
The report showed a 34.5% increase in drugs worldwide and in increase in cocaine use of 27% from 1998 to 2008 and marijuana use up 8.5%, according to United Nations health organizations.
Going back to Mr. Buckley…..what he showed in his columns and essays was the simple math. We spend billions on the war on drugs. We have an entire Federal agency that does nothing but fight drugs. They have made little or no progress at keeping drugs off the market. The illegal drug market is massively profitable and that money incentive has caused internal wars in Mexico, Columbia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. As has been explicitly explained for almost thirty years, when the West pays more for green beans than pot or coke, third world countries will plant green beans. Tens of thousands have died in drug producing countries as gangs fight for control of the illegal market. The figures Buckley used are outdated, but the basics of the math still remains – legalizing drugs would cut our need for the DEA and cut back our law enforcement and prison budgets drastically. It would also cut the amount of money we have to give to other countries to fight our drug war. Additionally, by legalizing, regulating and taxing drugs, we would tap into a huge revenue source. When Buckley pulled the first numbers, during the last years of the Clinton administration, he was talking about making direct pay-downs into the national debt because Clinton had already balanced the budget. We regulate and tax booze and cigarettes. The system is already in place to do the same with drugs.
As for the insistence that legalization would lead to an up-tick in use, Buckley pointed out that when prohibition was ended, the United States when on a national bender. We still are. Our entire culture tells us that you can’t enjoy a baseball or football game without massive amount of beer, or enjoy a meal without the right wine. On the other hand, we have had about 60 years of anti-drug education in this nation, a greater deterrent than criminalization.
The United States has a budget problem. It’s not as bad as the Republicans are saying to scare the hell out of voters, but it is real. We could do both reduce costs and raise revenue by legalizing drugs. We would be able to bank a lot of revenue and still increase treatment facilities for drug addiction. We have laws concerning driving while drunk and laws that allow companies to ban alcohol and tobacco use among their employees during working hours. Legalizing drugs would not increase Americans’ risk from stoners in the work place. We already have drug tests for employment. Florida Governor Rick Scott is implementing drug testing for recipients of social safety net programs, though that may have more to do with the fact that his company is the prime provider of drug tests in the state rather than any real concern about drug use in welfare mothers.
Legalizing drugs, regulating them to assure purity and quality, taxing them anywhere between the ridiculously low rates at which we tax beer and the outrageous rates at which we tax cigarettes – all of this is a win-win for the government. The only thing holding it up is the same thing that is standing in the way of abortion rights and same sex marriage – hysterical moralists who insist that anything that they don’t want in their personal lives must be made illegal for all Americans. This is the only issue on which Ron Paul is in the right. Drugs should be legal as long as we maintain controls that prevent drug use hurting bystanders. We cannot accept collateral damage from drug use anymore than we accept it from alcohol and tobacco use.
I do have one small personal interest in this subject, just for full disclosure. My mother died of Alzheimers. For two years, my niece’s friends help provide enough pot for us to make tea for Mom to help slow her loss of cognition. While Vermont is leading on the issue of medical marijuana, we really need a better system to help people with chemo reactions, Alzheimers and severe pain. And, no, I may be the right age, but I never participated in the hippie drug culture. I prefer hanging to reality. I’m dreadfully boring. I don’t drink either.