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EDITORIAL - America should rethink War on Drugs

Published:Sunday | December 16, 2012 | 12:00 AM

If the years of Prohibition taught the United States nothing else, it should have been that laws for which there is little, or no, popular consensus are not only likely to be treated with disdain, but also breed corruption.

So, during the ban on alcohol, speakeasies flourished and mobsters like Al Capone 'owned' law-enforcement officers and public officials. Dry America was a boon for the Mafia.

Nearly 80 years after the lifting of Prohibition, America is fighting, and losing, another of these battles of morality. Only, this time, the fight has spread far beyond its borders, with deleterious consequences for many of its neighbours, including Jamaica.

It is high time, therefore, that America resolve its internal differences and find a better way to manage the demand of its citizens for narcotics, rather than its interminable, and ineffective, War on Drugs. There are, perhaps, lessons for the federal government to learn from how an increasing number of states have sought to regulate the sale and consumption of marijuana, or ganja, to most Jamaicans.

America, per capita, is perhaps the world's largest consumer of narcotics. And, as is the case with most other products, it is a rich market - made more lucrative because of the premium for illegality - in which foreign suppliers want to thrive.

America's influence and power keep these drugs illegal not only in its national territory, but in supplier nations. The result is the corruption and violence that have engulfed many of America's southern neighbours, of which Mexico is now the extreme example, as narco-traffickers of cocaine and other drugs jostle for market supremacy.


Jamaica, whose geographic location makes it a significant trans-shipment point for narcotics heading from South to North America, and elsewhere, also knows the consequences of this crime-fuelled competition. Many of the illegal guns in Jamaica are linked to the narcotics trade.

Indeed, narco-criminals threaten the stability and security of many Latin American and Caribbean states. This situation is unlikely to change once demand for drugs remains high in the United States and the reward for taking risk of supplying it remains extraordinary.

In the case of alcohol, criminality surrounding its distillation and sale receded when Prohibition was lifted and its manufacture and marketing became normal business activities. To help compensate for the health and social risks associated with the consumption of alcohol, its sale is subject to regulation and often high taxes.

It is a similar approach that has been taken by Washington state and Colorado, which have made the recreational use of ganja legal, although possession and use of the drug remain federal offences. More than a dozen other American states have decriminalised marijuana use.

The fact that marijuana is not considered to be in the same category of hard drugs like cocaine makes it a good starting point for a new American conversation on, and rethink of, its War on Drugs and the collateral damage that it leaves in countries like Jamaica - guns, crime, instability.

A perhaps important point to be noted by America's federal lawmakers is that the US is close to self-sufficiency in ganja, most of it grown in small quantities by individuals. That, we believe, should tell them something about how Americans feel about the prohibition of the drug.

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