Jewish World Review August 12, 2003 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5763

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War on drugs is still a war worth fighting | We've spent hundreds of billions of dollars on law enforcement, prevention and treatment since President Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971. Yet the use of illicit drugs continues to plague our country. The federal government spends nearly $1 billion a month to fight the war on drugs, but users spend more than five times that much a month to buy drugs.

Beyond the horrific human toll of 20,000 drug-induced deaths each year, illegal drugs cost our economy more than $280 billion annually, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Incredibly, there are those who choose to ignore the human devastation and the economic cost of the drug plague. Many of them are pseudo-sophisticated baby boomers who consider themselves superior and hip in their wry, reckless disregard of the facts. They may also smoke marijuana, advocate its legalization, and rationalize cocaine by calling it a recreational drug.

And there is a surprising list of libertarians and conservatives, including William F. Buckley and Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman, who advocate the legalization or decriminalization of drugs.

Another Nobel laureate, Gary S. Becker, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, told me: "It (legalization) would certainly save a lot of resources for society. We could tax drug use so it could even lead to government revenue. . We would be able to able to greatly cut the number of people in prison, which would save resources for state and local government."

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But the cost of drug abuse goes well beyond the expense to control supply and demand. Drug users cost the country $160 billion each year in lost productivity. Parental substance abuse is responsible for $10 billion of the $14 billion spent nationally each year on child welfare costs. And drugs are involved in seven out of every 10 cases of child abuse and neglect.

Pete Wilson, the former governor of California, is a strong opponent of drug legalization. Wilson says the problem that advocates of legalization fail to acknowledge is that drugs are addictive in nature, and are therefore not just another commodity.

"Drugs did not become viewed as bad because they are illegal," Wilson says. "Rather, they became illegal because they are clearly bad."

Although the war on drugs certainly has not captured the American public's attention to the extent that it should, there has been success in efforts to curb drug use and supply. According to the University of Michigan's "Monitoring the Future" study, the percentage of high school seniors who reported using any drug within the past month decreased from 39 percent in 1978 to 26 percent in 2001. There are a total of 9 million fewer drug users in America now than there were in 1979. And coca cultivation was 15 percent lower in Colombia in 2002, due to the combined efforts of the United States and Colombian governments.

Drug czar John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, is optimistic about the war on drugs.

"We have to remember that, since we got serious in the '80s, overall drug use is half of what it was - and that's progress," Walters told me last week.

I would say that is quite a lot of progress. But the job is only half done.

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Lou Dobbs is the anchor and managing editor of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Moneyline." Comment by clicking here.

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