It's Time to End the War on Drugs

As President I will stop one of the biggest wastes and frauds ever perpetrated on the American people – the trillion dollar war on drugs. While falsely promising us a safer, more sober society, the war on drugs is bankrupting our state and local coffers and costs the Federal government $15 billion dollars per year. That’s five hundred dollars every second – mostly for possession of marijuana, a relatively harmless drug the effects of which are certainly no worse than alcohol, the sale of which is legal and regulated.

Think how many tax cuts we could have with the money we are spending. If you’re a Republican – think how many tax cuts (federal, state and local) could be bought with the money you’re spending to lock people up for something as dangerous as drinking. Think how many poor people could be helped with that money. We need to reform our drug laws as soon as yesterday by stopping the prohibition of marijuana and regulating its sale.

If you think the drug war makes you and your children safer, think again. The International Center for Science in Drug Policy stated: “Drug prohibition likely contributes to drug market violence and higher homicide rates.” But you don’t need to be a scientist, or the governor of a border state, to understand why: the drug war creates violent criminals.

Criminals deal drugs because drugs make them money, a lot of money. When that kind of money is in play, people kill for it. Entire armies of crime have built up on our streets and across the border in Mexico. But we can stop that tomorrow – with drug policy reform. We know that prohibition makes prices higher. Our own history with prohibition proves that. When we make something illegal, we keep the supply artificially low, and that keeps the price artificially high – and that means violence.

When marijuana is legal, farmed and taxed, we will suck the lifeblood from violent gangs and place the money in the public good. We tax and regulate alcohol and cigarettes, and we prevent kids from using these dangerous substances. Marijuana is no more dangerous than those, and yet Democrats and Republicans can only unite to allow this weed to fund entire armies of crime.

These criminals take to violence because, in absence of normal market regulations, only violence controls territory and market. Liquor stores don’t shoot each other over territory. If a newsstand up the block starts selling cigarettes, are you going to do a drive by and shoot their family?

Take for example the AP report on New York City. New York’s lowest-level marijuana-possession charge – criminal possession of marijuana in the 5th degree, a misdemeanor – has been the most common arrest charge in the city for much of the past decade, and the numbers have been steadily rising. So far this year there have been 38,359 reported arrests. Last year, there were 50,377 arrests citywide, up from 46,492 in 2009, according to statistics from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. That represents about 616 arrests per 100,000 city residents.

A report done earlier in 2011 by the Drug Policy Alliance concluded it cost an estimated $75 million in 2010 to process, jail and prosecute the low-level arrests in New York. That figure was a compilation of estimated court costs, police manpower and jail time, averaging about $1,500 per arrest – a cost shared by the state and city. The city budget alone is $65 million.

Every experiment in drug reform and decriminalization has met with a drop in crime. When New York State reformed its harsh Rockefeller drug laws, the precipitous drop in crime rates continued. When Portugal decriminalized drugs, crime dropped. Drug use dropped. New HIV infections dropped. Brute force has failed. And we should know better – our own experiment with prohibition virtually created organized crime in our country. Prohibition doesn’t work – users and addicts find a way to use drugs anyway. All prohibition does is create a black market that kills innocent people, when the DEA isn’t shooting them already.

I’m not soft on crime – as Governor I presided over a drop in the crime index from of almost 20%. If I had the tools to treat drug use as a public health hazard rather than a crime, I could have made that even lower. Thousands of retired drug enforcement agents, police and district attorneys join me in wanting to overhaul America’s drug laws. Democrats and Republicans don’t seem to understand, but as millions of people leave the two parties, independents can find new solutions. So join countless law enforcement officials, and a humble two-term governor; together we can save this country from crime – and our broken two-party system.


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