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Drug War Challenged On Its 40th Anniversary


Aired 6/17/11

June 17th marks 40 years since President Richard Nixon declared a "War on Drugs." Today, drug policy represents one of the most contested issues in America and Mexico.

A Customs and Border Protection agent in San Diego reveals a seizure of smugg...
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Above: A Customs and Border Protection agent in San Diego reveals a seizure of smuggled Mexican marijuana along the border.

— While the Vietnam War raged and the U.S. economy struggled with inflation and unemployment, President Nixon coined one of his most famous phrases.

“This is one area where we cannot have budget cuts," said Nixon. "Because we must wage what I have called total war against ‘public enemy number one’ in the United States—the problem of dangerous drugs.”

Four decades later, the War on Drugs has cost the states and federal government an estimated $1 trillion. Critics say it's a waste. The war, they say, has few success stories relative to its enormous expense.

In 2010 a Gallup poll revealed that 46 percent of Americans now support legalizing drugs, as compared to just 36 percent just five years ago.

"It's very rare to see public opinion change on an important social issue like that so quickly," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Speaking to reporters Thursday in Washington, Nadelmann argued that the human and financial cost of drug-related violence in Mexico is a top reason for shifting public opinion.

But at the Obama White House, drug legalization continues to be dismissed as simplistic.

"Drug cartels don't just make money off of drugs," said Office of National Drug Control Policy spokesperson Rafael Lemaitre. He added that drug cartels also make money off of human trafficking, extortion, and kidnapping. "It's disingenuous to make the claim that if you just legalize marijuana, somehow you'll have cartel members give up and start working for Microsoft or Coca-Cola."

But according to Lemaitre, the government has learned some lessons in the last four decades. Number one on that list, is treating drugs as a public health problem--instead of a criminal problem.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | June 17, 2011 at 2:05 p.m. ― 5 years, 9 months ago

How can anyone believe legalizing drugs will tip the war on drugs in favor of the law? The cartel(s) will continue to distribute, strong-arm, extort, blackmail, you name it, and the money will continue to flow their way. We're losing the war because we're not fighting the battles to win.

All too often we get caught up in jurisdictional in-fighting between agencies vying for money and attention, not to mention people in law enforcement on 'the take', who tip off the cartel regarding sensitive information. Yes we need to treat the drug problem as a health problem, but the cartels have upped the ante and are fighting dirtier than any of us could have imagined. Look at the beheadings, murders, etc. right across the border.

The people we should be asking how to fight the war on drugs are the border patrol agents and low-level law enforcement officers who are out on the streets every day fighting these battles. They could give insight on the course we need to take versus the high chain-of-command sitting behind a desk.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | June 17, 2011 at 2:17 p.m. ― 5 years, 9 months ago

Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations' - New York TimesApr 23, 2008 ... The U.S. has less than 5 percent of the world's population but almost a quarter of its prisoners. - Similar - Add to iGoogle►Inmate Count in US Dwarfs Other Nations' | Common DreamsApr 23, 2008 ... Inmate Count in US Dwarfs Other Nations'. By Adam Liptak. The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. ...

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Avatar for user 'dregstudios'

dregstudios | June 17, 2011 at 2:55 p.m. ― 5 years, 9 months ago

The War on Drugs failed $1 Trillion ago! This money could have been used for outreach programs to clean up the bad end of drug abuse by providing free HIV testing, free rehab, and clean needles. Harmless drugs like marijuana could be legalized to help boost our damaged economy. Cannabis can provide hemp for countless natural recourses and the tax revenue from sales alone would pull every state in our country out of the red! Vote Teapot, PASS IT, and legalize it. Voice you opinion with the movement and read more on my artist’s blog at

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