One war at a time is enough, don't you think?

With President George W. Bush hell-bent on waging war against terrorism,
isn't it about time he surrendered gracefully in the war on drugs? It isn't
his war to begin with. President Nixon declared war on drugs 30 years ago.=
It
proved useful politically in his landslide re-election over Democrat George
McGovern, but it has been a losing battle ever since.

The federal budget for the war in 1972 was roughly $101 million. In that=
same
year, the average monthly Social Security check was $177.

Now, the federal government is spending almost $20 billion a year on the=
drug
war. To put the increase in context, if Social Security had grown at the=
same
rate the average monthly check today would be more than $35,000.

And what are we getting for our money?

Foreign production of illegal drugs has increased, not decreased, despite
billions spent on trying to cut off the flow at the source.

Despite more billions lavished on border security, customs officials admit
they stop less than 20 percent of drugs coming into this country. Even if
authorities could cut off the overseas supply, domestic suppliers would fill
the gap.

The supply of drugs is so plentiful that today's marijuana, cocaine and
heroin are of higher quality and selling for lower prices than ever.

As for demand, didn't Prohibition teach us that no amount of laws and
policing can control what people consume privately?

Millions of young people in the United States have criminal records because
they grew or used or simply possessed a prohibited drug. They got caught.=
The
president wouldn't be president if he had been caught in his reckless youth.
He'd be just another ex-con.

Now, the president's niece, the daughter of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, faces the
stigma of a criminal record. You'd think these personal encounters with the
foolishness of treating drug use as a crime rather than a medical issue=
would
have an impact on how the Bush brothers shape drug policy. But no.

The National Academy of Sciences concluded that the drug war has been a=
flop.
But Bush never has paid much attention to science. Consider that he ignores
the abundant scientific evidence on global warming.

A sign of just how far out of control the drug war has wandered came last
week in Santa Cruz, Calif., where the mayor, a half-dozen city council
members and three former mayors joined an estimated 1,000 citizens to defy
the Drug Enforcement Administration by distributing cannabis products in the
courtyard of City Hall.

California voters have twice voted to make marijuana legal for use in
alleviating the symptoms of serious illnesses. Again, the National Academy=
of
Sciences supports the idea that marijuana works to lessen nausea and other
side effects in cancer patients and others.

The open display of defiance by Santa Cruz officials came two weeks after=
the
DEA raided the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, destroyed the=
group's
2002 marijuana crop and arrested the operators.

I happened to be in California last week, 75 miles from where the
insurrection occurred, and I spoke with Joe McNamara, a former police chief
who has campaigned against the drug war since retiring from active police
duty.

McNamara, who served with the New York City Police Department and as police
chief in Kansas City, Mo., and San Jose, Calif., now is a research fellow at
the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where he writes and lectures
on the damage caused by criminalizing drugs.

The drug war has been far more harmful to America than the drugs themselves
ever were or could be, McNamara says. In fact, he says, the political
leadership's obsession with combating drugs may have been a factor in our
vulnerability to terrorists on Sept. 11. "In budget requests made four=
months
prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI asked for only eight additional=
agents
to combat terrorism =E2?" a meager increase that follows the agency's paltry=
2
percent manpower growth over the past two years," McNamara wrote in the
Winter 2001 edition of the trade journal Regulation.

"The Drug Enforcement Agency, on the other hand, has enjoyed a 26 percent
increase in personnel. It is worth pondering whether the Sept. 11 attacks
would have occurred if Congress had increased FBI anti-terrorism resources=
by
26 percent instead of DEA resources."

Isn't it about time we pursued an honorable peace in this dishonorable war?

Published in the St Paul Pioneer Press.
by Tom Brazaitis
Brazaitis is a senior editor in the Washington bureau of the Cleveland PlainDealer.