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Legalize Drugs: Everybody's Doing Them Anyway


75 years after prohibition, America still hasn't learned its lesson.

If ever there were a day to lift a glass in celebration, today's the day.

On this date 75 years ago, the United States repealed the 18th Amendment, thus ending what Ethan Nadelmann has called "the nation's disastrous experiment with alcohol prohibition."

After 15 years of moonshine, underground beer halls, and a dramatic spike in organized crime, America realized that its relentless effort to keep people away from liquor was in fact more dangerous than booze itself.

Nevertheless, today we seem determined to make the same mistakes our Depression-era counterparts did; unlike them, however, we haven't set our errors right.

The debate over the legalization of illicit drugs isn't new, but with lawmakers scrounging for additional tax revenues to offset a ballooning national deficit and social mood yearning for change, getting high could soon become a whole lot easier.

As well it should.

For all the economic, political, and social arguments over relaxing our oppressive anti-drug policies, the issue ultimately comes down to ideology: Do we, as a country, believe the government should dictate our morality, or should such decisions be left to individuals themselves?

The relative legality of drugs is determined -- arbitrarily -- by bureaucrats in order to please this or that Washington lobby. And to ensure Molson Coors (TAP), the Boston Beer Company (SAM) and Altria (MO) keep their monopoly on government-sanctioned debauchery.

Alcohol -- nothing more than flavored poison that encourages domestic violence and drunk driving -- is not only legal, but is advertised ad nauseum; meanwhile, possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms, which grow naturally and merely make the walls wiggle, the clouds purple, and the meaning of life totally clear, is a felony in certain states.

Cigarettes, which cause cancer and kill millions each year, remain available at the corner store; marijuana, a plant, which has a fraction of the negative physical and societal side effects (not to mention documented medicinal qualities), is shunned by teetotalers and drunks alike.

It's pretty hard to argue that a pothead munching potato chips on his couch is a greater menace to society than a party-goer hopping in his car after 6 or 8 cocktails. Yet for some reason, our society accepts these irrational laws, as if desperately clinging to some sort link to our Puritanical origins.

The decision over what drugs we put into our bodies should be our own. Period. To the extent those decisions harm others (or have the potential to do so), they should be dealt with accordingly.

To be sure, drug abuse of any kind has its ugly side, which no rational argument for legalization can ignore. But rehabilitation and the treatment of addiction as the disease it is makes far more sense than turning petty drug offenders into hardened criminals by locking them away in our overcrowded prison system.

And the international ramifications of our "War on Drugs" are reason enough to reconsider this ill-conceived battle. As Nadelmann points out in the Journal, one need look no further than violence in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico to see what fighting a multi-billion war on an amorphous, impossibly fragmented foe achieves.

There are 2 sides to every market: Supply and demand. We have chosen, as a country, to attack the former, because it makes for better headlines and takes the fight outside our borders. It's far easier to support spraying pesticides in the Andes, polluting rivers and killing farmers, than it is to face the stark reality that millions of Americans, most of whom are perfectly responsible, functioning members of the community, may enjoy the occasional toke now and again.
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