James Thalman's "U.S. drug policy a total failure" (May 4) really hits the nail on the head.

In a perfect world there would be no drug abuse and addiction. We wouldn't need our war on drugs. But we don't live in a perfect world, we live in a very human world where mistakes are made, decisions regretted. And oftentimes a decision to try an illegal drug is just a momentary thing, an act done on impulse. That act may be a one-time occurrence or it may lead to a problem.

Does drug use automatically correspond to failure later in life? Will one puff of marijuana doom the user to a life of crime and an ever-deepening spiral of drug use? Hardly. Cannabis (marijuana) is our most commonly used illegal drug, with millions of adults using it regularly. If it were the terrible scourge federal drug policy officials paint it to be, we would be hip deep in problem potheads.

What we have instead is a policy gone terribly awry and a massive bureaucracy dependent (dare I say addicted?) upon continued failure of their policies. In the twisted world of drug policy, bad news is good news. Bad news means the war must go on. Perpetually, it seems. And what bureaucrat can be unhappy about perpetual job security?

The facts tells us that countries with more lenient drug policies than ours have lower drug use rates. In the Netherlands, with its cannabis cafes, marijuana use is about half that of ours. In Switzerland they have been utilizing heroin-assisted treatment for more than a decade and have experienced positive results all around. Drug-associated crime has fallen drastically, the health and employability of addicts is improving, the cost of social support is reduced and the addiction is declining as the "rebel" image of heroin use has been replaced with that of older adult addicts.

Is drug legalization an option?

In historical terms, we know from the example of alcohol Prohibition that the most effective way to remove criminal controls over production and distribution of a product is to regulate them and place the product under the control of legitimate businesses. Do beer distributors engage in drive-by shootings of their competitors? No, not since the passage of the 21st Amendment ended the complete control gangsters had on the market for booze.

Yet today the national appetite for illicit drugs is a $65 billion industry, with virtually all illegal drugs controlled by gangs and international cartels. Illegal drugs comprise $500 billion in annual global trade, a staggering 8 percent of the total world economy. Meanwhile we spend some $70 billion a year (more than $1 trillion since Richard Nixon's declaration of war) on our fraudulent drug policies.

Legalization is the option.

When alcohol Prohibition ended, violent crime underwent a steady 10 year decline. Criminals and their syndicates lost a primary source of funding. Legalization of drugs would reduce problems on our borders and put the cartels out of business. In the Western states law enforcement estimates that 80 percent of illegal pot is produced by foreign cartels. Law enforcement would be freed to deal with real crime — assaults, theft, child pornography — and the money now spent on ineffectual bureaucracies like the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy could be better spent on supplying the medical profession with funding for drug addiction rehabilitation programs.

Rather than lose, lose, lose, isn't it time to win the war on drugs by putting an end to it?


David Doddridge, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (www.leap.cc), is a former Los Angeles police detective who now lives in St. George.