America’s Longest War

In the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance, has a brisk, powerfully written piece calling for the legalization of drugs. Unfortunately, it’s subscriber-only, but here’s one of the more provocative passages:

Looking to the United States as a role model for drug control is like looking to apartheid-era South Africa for how to deal with race. The United States ranks first in the world in per-capita incarceration–with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but almost 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. The number of people locked up for U.S. drug-law violations has increased from roughly 50,000 in 1980 to almost 500,000 today…. In 2005, the ayatollah in charge of Iran’s Ministry of Justice issued a fatwa declaring methadone maintainance and syringe-exchange programs compatible with sharia law. One only wishes his American counterpart were comparably enlightened.

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post’s Outlook section featured an indictment of drug prohibition written by Misha Glenny: “The Lost War.” Glenny concludes with the following:

In Washington, the war on drugs has been a third-rail issue since its inauguration. It’s obvious why – telling people that their kids can do drugs is the kiss of death at the ballot box. But that was before 9/11. Now the drug war is undermining Western security throughout the world. In one particularly revealing conversation, a senior official at the British Foreign Office told me, “I often think we will look back at the War on Drugs in a hundred years’ time and tell the tale of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ This is so stupid.”

How right he is.

For some of Cato’s 30 years of work on this issue, start here.

Bonus Friday Fun Link: go to page 4 of this document [.pdf] to read about how Richard Nixon’s Archie-Bunker-style social theories led him to ramp up the war on marijuana.