British columnist Johann Hari recently took on one of the various neverending U.S. wars - this time, the "War on Drugs" - and posits that Kerry may be "even worse than Bush" in advancing that "war".
Kerry made his name as a Drug War hawk. He dedicated an entire senatorial inquiry in 1989 to denouncing the Reagan administration's softness on international drug suppliers. His principal advisor on the subject today - and the man tipped by some commentators to become his Secretary of State - is Rand Beers, who defected last year from his role as Bush's counter-terrorism advisor. Throughout the 1990s, Beers was the primary architect of the US policy of "taking the fight to the drug-growers" - launching massive chemical attacks on farmers in foreign countries in an attempt to prevent their crops ever reaching America's shores.Personally, I don't think that much is likely to change in the "war on drugs" - this nation's drug policy has been rather stable for quite some time, and I don't expect any significant new initatives regardless of who wins the fall election. Hari essentially concedes that the policy he seems to find most offensive - chemical spraying of crops - was followed by Bush I and Clinton, as well as Bush II.
Hari's core argument is for legalization, but he seems to believe that legalization will transform the underground drug economies of the developing world into highly profitable, taxable, legitimate business income.
Drug prohibition is the largest factor in the collapse of [Colombia and Afghanistan] into gangsterism. It ensures that the biggest chunk of their economies is handed to armed criminals who cannot be taxed, regulated or brought under state control. ... It is only once the drug trade is handed over to legitimate companies - and the gangs slowly bankrupted - that the long process of constructing a modern state can begin.Yet if drugs were legalized in the west, it is unlikely that there would be much call for either the coca crop or the opium poppy. It is far more likely that the newly legalized drugs would be synthesized at a much lower cost than "natural" production. Pharmaceutical companies have been able to mass produce synthetic opiates for about twenty-five years, and synthetic anaesthetics (such as lidocaine) for even longer. Were major industry to take over the production, distribution and sale of what are presently "street drugs", there would likely be a drastic reduction in the market for the drug crops of peasant farmers in Colombia and Afghanistan, and it is unlikely that there would be a flood of new income into the legitimate revenue streams of either state.
While the costs of the "drug war" in nations like Colombia, and the impact of the "drug war" and the criminal cartels it spawns, interferes with the lives of the citizens of those nations, its end would be much more likely to offer them improvement in their peace of mind than in their economic wellbeing.