Vail Daily columnist Butch Mazzuca: Drug war failed: What next?
Several weeks ago two 12 year-old girls were gunned down after being caught in the crossfire between rival gangs in Chicago. Chicago isn’t alone. Cities across America are experiencing greater incidences of gang violence centered on one thing: drugs. Instinctively, something tells me drug usage isn’t a good thing. At the same time, however, America’s “War on Drugs,” a federal initiative that is estimated to cost taxpayers $40 billion a year, is an abysmal failure. If Americans are really serious about the drug war, shouldn’t we be compelled to ask if our current drug laws aren’t actually creating drug crimes by keeping the trade in the hands of gangsters who operate outside the law?Unlike alcohol-related crimes, which occur when either the perpetrator or the victim was under the influence at the time the crime, neither party needs to have been using drugs for a crime to be categorized as drug-related, as in the case of a 21 year old selling a bag of pot to his 21-year-old buddy. That’s just one reason why statistical comparisons between the two don’t always paint a clear picture.There’s a story about a pot-smoking hippie and a drunkard who walk to a local convenience store to buy some doughnuts. But when they arrive, they discover the store is closed. The drunkard says, “Let’s kick the door in and grab what we want.” The hippie responds, “Nah, let’s just sit here and wait till they open.” The point is that far more violence occurs when people are drunk than when people are high. And while alcohol is involved in 70 percent of all felonies committed in the United States, stoned hippies aren’t noted for committing a lot of rapes and murders.Government statistics regarding usage have shown that alcohol creates more heavy users than drugs. Additionally, 36 million American have tried crack cocaine, but only 4 million have used it within the last year, a statistic that negates the “use it once and you’re hooked” theory.Meanwhile, Portugal decriminalized heroin and cocaine in 2001, yet drug use by Portuguese teens has declined, as has the HIV rate (fewer people using dirty needles.) In the Netherlands, marijuana has been legal for 25 years but fewer Dutch teens (20 percent) have smoked pot than American teens (38 percent)In his best-selling book, “No They Can’t,” libertarian John Stossel makes a valid point when he rhetorically asks, “Has anyone noticed that no one smuggles liquor anymore?” Prohibition gave us Al Capone, but Beaver Liquors doesn’t send a hit squad to take out the clerks at Alpine Wine & Spirits on Valentine’s Day. Meanwhile, drug prohibition has spawned Mexican drug cartels, gang violence on our streets, and overflowing prisons.In their wisdom, the founders believed the individual states should act as “laboratories of democracy.” So perhaps an alternative approach to a federal war on drugs might be to use the existing system of governmental filtration, wherein states would act as laboratories and experiment with various possible solutions to the issue.Let’s say New York state chooses to decriminalize marijuana and cocaine. Why not allow New York to do so without federal interference? Once the efficacy of New York’s laws are determined, its citizens can choose to keep what works and pitch what doesn’t, all while the other 49 states observe the results and learn from them. Opponents of this line of reasoning contend drugs erode people’s morals and should never be decriminalized. Perhaps. But in 1920, millions felt that way about alcohol and the result was Prohibition. We all know how well that worked out. It should also be noted that by keeping drugs illegal, we continue to give the federal government an incentive to waste billions of our tax dollars on one more infective government bureaucracy.The 10th Amendment reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” So perhaps by allowing individual states to experiment with all aspects of the issue — i.e., production, distribution, zoning, taxation, rehabilitation — we can finally gain control of the situation. States might even put limits or restrictions on purchases and subcontract the monitoring to VISA or MasterCard, companies that already have systems to keep us from exceeding our credit limits.There are so many possible solutions to this problem t,hey can’t possibly be covered in a 790-word commentary. But three things are clear: the war on drugs costs billions, it isn’t working, and decriminalization has a far better chance of putting an end to the illegal drug trade and its attendant violent crime than does our current policy.