There is a crack in the facade of the worldwide war on drugs. Finally. In the upcoming Summit of the Americas several national leaders will be pushing for an end to the entirely unnecessary and unsuccessful war on drugs; there is little hope that Obama will actually accept any notable changes to the US strategy of tossing away money to imprison people for victimless crimes but it is a good sign. It is unfortunate that Obama is in such a delicate position politically at the moment because I think that is a sure sign that we can expect nothing innovative in terms of drug policy. His 'Obamacare' legislation may well be struck down by the Supreme Court and the economy continues to be mediocre, sure signs that he will face a real battle in the upcoming election. Unfortunately that means that he will stick to the old strategy of interfering in other countries affairs and loading up the prisons because that is popular.
Thankfully there are a few countries that are more courageous in this matter like Switzerland and Portugal who have very successfully implemented strategies of treatment and education instead of war and which have had amazing results both in terms of cost savings and reduction of drug use. Eventually the fact that the war on drugs simply doesn't work will help spread these strategies and countries like Canada will fall in line even if the US does look on in disapproval. I would love to say that the US will follow suit, though rather later than sooner, but I am not actually sure this will happen. The death penalty is considered a dysfunctional, inhumane anachronism throughout most of the world and yet it remains in force in the US; I think that there are enough similarities between the two ideas that the same thing will happen.
To my mind it comes down to the desire for revenge. It is clear that sometimes innocent people are killed when the death penalty is in effect and yet it is supported on the basis of taking an eye for an eye. It isn't cheaper and it causes no end of injustice but people support it because they want revenge. Same goes for drug use. Rather than paying to treat users (which is cheap and more effective) people would rather have revenge and put the user in jail (which is expensive and less effective). Some countries, cultures and individuals have a greater desire for revenge than others and when revenge is considered of paramount importance then all kinds of terrible decisions are made.
All that is also predicated on the assumption that there is something to get revenge *for*. I can get high by sniffing gas or glue or just by taking a couple daytime cold medication pills I can buy at the drugstore. None of this is illegal. Using marijuana is illegal though, and for no reason other than it was illegal before. Of course crack and heroin and other drugs are really dangerous but so is downhill skiing, sniffing gasoline, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. We need to get past this idea that Prohibition is a sensible state of things and accept that people will do drugs no matter what the government does about it. All we can do is legalize it (to strangle organized crime), tax it (more revenue, huzzah!) and treat those who do end up addicted (which we do anyway). I am allowed to go to a ski hill, go too fast and break my leg and the government puts a cast on my leg and sends me on my way. Lets respond to me smoking up exactly the same way and skip the whole revenge shtick.