Russell Hebets Sept. 29, 2010

It has been approximately 40 years since President Nixon decided that our country should wage a war against drugs. Since that time we as a country have spent hundreds of billions of dollars attempting to stem the flow of illegal drugs and tens of millions Americans have been arrested, yet we are no closer to winning that war.

Whether you lament it or applaud it, Americans love drugs. Whether you’re talking about legal drugs such as caffeine, alcohol, and prescription drugs, or illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy, Americans from all walks of life have used drugs and will continue to use drugs. Politicians from President Obama to Sarah Palin have admitted to past drug use. The FBI recently changed their admission policy to allow the hiring of applicants who used illegal drugs in the past. Last year alone marijuana use among America’s youth rose 9%. We are light years away from being the drug-free society that the war on drugs envisioned.

Where there is a demand, there will be a supply. Rather than regulate drugs like marijuana as we regulate alcohol, the United States has created the perfect conditions for a lucrative black market. Prohibition of alcohol in the 20s created Al Capone, and our current war on drugs has created Mexican drug lords. These present day gangsters are only too happy to fill this demand, killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians as a byproduct of their ruthless battles to control this trade while we spend billions with no discernible returns on those investments.

While drugs can be abused, responsible use is possible and to date 14 states and DC have legalized medicinal use of marijuana. Do people engage in illegal, destructive behavior while on drugs? Absolutely. But people engage in illegal, destructive behavior while on legal prescription drugs, while drunk, and while sober as well. Individuals having a drink at a bar are not arrested, but individuals drinking and driving are. The same could easily be applied to other drugs which are currently illegal. Were we to simply legalize and tax marijuana we would immediately save lives, dramatically decrease the number of incarcerated Americans, drastically decrease spending, and increase tax revenue. It’s time to face facts and get out of this war.

Russell Hebets is a Denver criminal defense lawyer that aggressively defends the rights of the accused.