And make no mistake: There is no war on drugs without the war on pot, which is the only illegal drug that anyone uses with any frequency. According to the government’s own stats, 7.2 percent of Americans cop to having smoked pot in the past 30 days, an imperfect but rough measure of regular use. The 30-day-use figures for other illegal—sorry, illicit—drugs are almost too small to measure: 0.1 percent for heroin, 0.2 percent for crack, 0.2 percent for methamphetamine, 0.1 percent for LSD, 0.2 percent for ecstasy. The only other substances that even top one percent are “nonmedical use of psychotherapeutics,” a category that includes prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin and anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax. Even when bundled together, just 2.6 percent of Americans misuse prescription drugs in a given month.
Who supports keeping the drug-war gulag open to punish the 0.1 percent of acid eaters left in America, or even the 2.6 percent of sad-sack pill addicts? Lord knows we are slow to wisdom, but we’ve finally realized that prohibition exacerbates all the ills it’s supposed to prevent and only makes substance abusers less likely to seek treatment (who wants to admit to being a criminal on top of a junky?). The only question left—and it’s not a small one, for sure—is the one Secretary of State John Kerry asked as a Vietnam protester: Who’s going to be the last man to die for this mistake?
As in so many other urgent situations, Barack Obama’s widely praised ability to whip up sweet-and-sticky word-clouds of rhetorical cotton candy has abandoned him. In late August, nearly a year after Colorado and Washington state voters overwhelmingly rejected federal marijuana prohibition and legalize cannabis at the state level, the Obama Justice Department finally issued vague guidelines that kinda-sorta said that the feds wouldn’t prosecute producers and consumers of medical and recreational pot in states that had legalized such activities.