Friday, February 29, 2008

Federal Cuts in Drug War - It's a good start

In an announcement sure to be met with mixed blessings from defenders of civil liberties, the biggest waste in the federal budget, the drug war, is about to experience significant budget cuts.

"Congress in January cut funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant by two-thirds, from $520 million to $170 million for fiscal 2008. Local agencies say that's a threat to the officers who do much of the law enforcement spadework.

The Byrne program is not without controversy, having drawn allegations of abuse. But many enforcement organizations consider it essential to their local efforts."

Of course they do. But those officers are asking the wrong questions. It's not how we should fight the drug war, but whether we should fight it, and if so, what sort of emphasis should each of the drugs get. One comment in the news story sums up the problem nicely, albeit inadvertantly:

"The Bush administration has argued that the program should end because crime is down and the money is needed elsewhere. That assessment clashes with reports from many states of record hauls of drugs, especially methamphetamine and marijuana, and increased activity by drug gangs."

Talking about meth and marijuana in the same sentence is like talking about rats and elephants. Yeah, they're both mammals, but one can do far more damage than the other. Marijuana is, by any medical measure, comparable in risk to alcohol and cigarettes, and in some measures is safer. Alcohol is far more likely to elicit violence in the user for instance. Every dollar spent trying to stop the marijuana trade makes the situation worse, the same way prohibition of alcohol did.

Federal officials need to stop pretending "drugs" is meaningful, and focus on the meth epidemic, which is unlike anything this nation has ever seen. As usual, we have to have priorities. We can't afford to control everything we don't like.

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