George Will gets drug war right, mostly.

Columnist George Will

Columnist George Will

Conservative writer George Will addressed the war on drugs, especially marijuana, in his Oct. 29 column. True conservatives, as believers in small government, abhor the drug war with its big government meddling in the lives of Americans. But many “conservatives,” especially neo-cons, still support support the bureaucratic persecution and incarceration of fellow citizens.

Will quotes drug czar Gil Kerlikowske as saying, “not many people think the drug war is a success.”  George Will makes a great many good points to back this up.

  • Furthermore, the recession’s toll on state budgets has concentrated minds on the costs of drug offense incarcerations — costs that in some states are larger than expenditures on secondary education.
  • He quotes the Economist, “The annual U.S. bill for attempting to diminish the supply of drugs is $40 billion. Of the 1.5 million Americans arrested each year on drug offenses, half a million are incarcerated. “Tougher drug laws are the main reason why one in five black American men spend some time behind bars,” the Economist said in March.”

Will’s most important quotation from the Economist is a key truth unrealized by most law makers, presidents and drug czars:

  • “There is no correlation between the harshness of drug laws and the incidence of drug-taking: citizens living under tough regimes (notably America but also Britain) take more drugs, not fewer.” Do cultural differences explain this? Evidently not: “Even in fairly similar countries tough rules make little difference to the number of addicts: harsh Sweden and more liberal Norway have precisely the same addiction rates.” (emphasis mine)

This last point underscores the basic futility and corruption of the failed, decade’s-long war on drugs. It is doubly troubling that the drug war has been allowed to take it most savage form in the USA and transform the land of the free into the world’s largest incarceration of human beings. Drug warriors like to think that only their efforts stand between the populace and drug catastrophe; in truth, their activities are essentially irrelevant to the amount of drug use.

Will does allow Kerlikowske to make a couple of dumb points. The drug czar says, “”You don’t find many heroin users who didn’t start with marijuana.” Hey, Gil, try reading the drug czar-commissioned 1999 Institute of Medicine report that debunked this gateway propaganda, supposedly for once and for all.

Importantly, Will contrasted the failed war on drugs with the very successful American experience with the deadliest drug, tobacco cigarettes. “The good news is the progress America has made against tobacco, which is more addictive than most illegal drugs.” He continues with a discussion of historic alcohol use in the USA.

Will ended his column vaguely. He began with a suggestion to the drug czar, “With his first report to the president early next year, he could increase the quotient of realism.” But apparently George F. Will is unaware that the drug czar cannot, by the laws of his office, be truthful. He must, by law, disavow any validity to medical marijuana, a position puts him at odds with science and will prevent him from telling his boss the truth in the upcoming report.

Overall, George Will provided a refreshing account of several important truths about America’s failed war on drugs.