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News (Media Awareness Project) - US WA: Column: Drug War Not Worth Price
Title:US WA: Column: Drug War Not Worth Price
Published On:2011-12-06
Source:Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)
Fetched On:2011-12-08 06:00:20

Five years ago last month, Milton Friedman died at age 94. To the
very end, the Nobel Prize-winning economist was astute, tireless and
wonderfully avuncular. Thanks to the Internet, his commentaries on
subjects ranging from greed to slavery to the Great Depression myth
and many other topics can be enjoyed forever.

Of course, great thinkers have been recording their thoughts in books
for millennia. And Friedman was no exception. But there's no denying
the immediacy and intimacy of video. Wouldn't we have loved to click
on Edmund Burke, Alexander Hamilton or Cicero and watch them talk
about their ideas? If you do dip into the Friedman oeuvre, start with
his exchange with Phil Donahue!

Nothing would be easier than to invoke the great Friedman as the sage
of limited government. He was certainly that. If he were commenting
on America's current predicament, he would doubtless prescribe a
radically smaller public sector.

But Friedman poses challenges to conservatives as well as liberals.
He opposed, for example, the war on drugs. That's right. Friedman was
for legalization of all drugs, not just marijuana.

It's a position embraced by only one candidate for president, Ron
Paul. Rep. Paul holds some ludicrous views. He seems to believe, for
example, that if we were just nicer to the Iranians, we wouldn't need
to fret about their acquisition of nuclear weapons. Still, Paul
deserves full credit for endorsing drug legalization. Friedman would approve.

Governments in the United States, federal and state, spend an
estimated $41.3 billion annually to prevent people from ingesting
substances we deem harmful, though many unsafe ingestibles you know
the list remain legal. Half of all federal prisoners are serving
sentences for drug offenses, along with 20 percent of state prisoners.

In 2009, there were 1.7 million drug arrests in the United States.
Half of those were for marijuana. As David Boaz and Timothy Lynch of
the Cato Institute noted, "Addicts commit crimes to pay for a habit
that would be easily affordable if it were legal. Police sources have
estimated that as much as half the property crime in some major
cities is committed by drug users."

Drug money, such as booze money during Prohibition, has corrupted
countless police, Drug Enforcement Administration agents, Border
Patrol agents, prosecutors and judges. Drug crime has blighted many
neighborhoods. America's appetite for drugs has encouraged
lawlessness and violence in many neighboring countries, most recently
in Mexico, where its drug violence is spilling north.

Because illegal drugs are unregulated, their purity is unknowable
accounting for thousands of overdose deaths and injuries. Since we
maintain drug prohibition to protect people from their own foolish
decisions, those overdose deaths must weigh in the balance, too.

Drug prohibition, Friedman pointed out, keeps the price of drugs
artificially inflated and amounts to a favor by the government to the
drug lords. "The role of the government is to protect the drug
cartels," as he provocatively phrased it. Due to our interdiction
efforts, Friedman explained, it's enormously costly for a small
competitor to attempt to import drugs. This ensures that only the big
operators with large fleets of planes, heavy weapons, etc., can compete.

Prohibition makes it unnecessarily cumbersome for cancer patients and
others to receive painkillers and other drugs. A misplaced fear of
addiction sometimes leads doctors and other health care providers to
underprescribe pain medicine. Meanwhile, any high schooler can score
whatever drugs he wants on the way to gym class.

Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron estimates that if drugs
were legal and taxed, the U.S. and state treasuries would receive
$46.7 billion in added revenue while saving $41.3 billion in expenditures.

What is the downside to legalization? Friedman acknowledged the
possibility that legalization might result in some increase in drug
addiction. There was, after all, an uptick in alcoholism after
Prohibition was repealed. But not all victims are created equal. The
child, Friedman notes, who is killed in a drive-by shootout between
drug gangs is a total victim. The adult who decides to take drugs is not.

Let's stipulate that some unknown number of Americans will become
addicts after legalization who otherwise would not have. We must ask
whether the terrible price we are now paying - in police costs,
international drug control efforts, border security, foregone tax
revenue, overdose deaths, corruption and violence - is worth it.
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