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Drug war criticism

Paul Kengor rails against legalizing drugs (“A conservative take on drugs,” Forum, Sunday) as if all drugs were alike and all drugs were illegal. Of course, neither is true.

Let us consider marijuana, an illegal drug, in comparison to alcohol, which is legal and regulated. Alcohol is more addictive (15 percent of users become dependent versus 9 percent for marijuana) much more toxic and more likely to induce violent and aggressive behavior.

So why exactly is alcohol a huge and legal industry, while we arrest nearly 800,000 Americans each year on marijuana charges, 89 percent of them for simple possession? Why have we taken a popular product — used by at least 100 million Americans, according to federal surveys that even the government admits probably are gross underestimates — and given a monopoly on sales and distribution to criminal gangs rather than legitimate, regulated businesses?

The late Milton Friedman understood, as do other real conservatives, that the only marijuana policy that makes sense is treating it like alcohol, with common-sense regulations, taxes and controls.

BRUCE MIRKEN

Director of communications

Marijuana Policy Project

Washington

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Paul Kengor makes the common mistake of assuming that punitive drug laws deter use.

The drug war is in large part a war on marijuana, by far the most popular illicit drug. The University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future Study reports that lifetime use of marijuana is higher in the United States than in any European country, yet America is one of the few Western countries that still punishes citizens who prefer marijuana to martinis. Unlike alcohol, marijuana has never been shown to cause an overdose death, nor does it share the addictive properties of tobacco. The short-term health effects of marijuana are inconsequential compared to the long-term effects of criminal records.

Unfortunately, marijuana represents the counterculture to many Americans. In subsidizing the prejudices of culture warriors, government is subsidizing organized crime. The drug war’s distortion of immutable laws of supply and demand makes an easily grown weed literally worth its weight in gold. The only clear winners in the war on marijuana are drug cartels and shameless tough-on-drugs politicians who have built careers confusing drug prohibition’s collateral damage with a relatively harmless plant. The big losers are the taxpayers, who have been deluded into believing big government is the appropriate response to nontraditional, consensual vices.

ROBERT SHARPE

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