A Question or Two about the “War on Drugs”

by Don Boudreaux on September 16, 2009

in Crime

Robert Sharpe – as expressed in a letter appearing in today’s Wall Street Journal – rightly wants to end the war on marijuana users.  After mentioning that Pres. Obama admits to having smoked pot as a college student, Sharpe asks “Would Barack Obama be in the White House if he had been convicted of a marijuana offense as a youth?”

Here’s a different question, one that exposes the huge disconnect between most people’s live-and-let-live attitudes about drug use (or at least about the use of pot and cocaine) and the harsh penalties often imposed on users.  Suppose Barack Obama (or Bill Clinton or George Bush) had admitted, say, to committing armed robbery – or even to picking pockets – while in college.  Whether convicted or not for such crimes, is it conceivable that the electorate would dismiss these past offenses as being nothing more than understandable youthful antics and conclude that he is, at bottom, a decent-enough chap worthy of the White House?  Of course not.

So why does government continue to waste vast quantities of resources hunting down and punishing people for drug use – actions that most of us obviously regard as being not especially heinous or harmful to society?

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