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Milton Friedman once compared searching for a rational government drug policy to looking for a barking cat. You can want one, you can hunt for one, but you’re never going to find it. The problem is that cats meow, and government drug wars do more harm than good. Friedman says no policy is the best policy and supports full legalization with minimal regulation. The wisdom of the Nobel laureate’s view was on display last week, after the U.S Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyer’s Cooperative. In another example of governmental intransigence bred by institutional incompetence, the court handed the executive branch a judicial two-by-four to beat up on medical marijuana initiatives passed in California and eight other states. Never mind that most days of the week the conservative justices who joined the opinion consider the states the laboratories of democracy. The clear and present danger presented by chemo-crazed cancer patient potheads mixing doobies and Gemzar or Taxol so they can choke down dinner without immediately throwing it back up was too great for a delicate federal government. The state statutes remain in effect, but the court decision allows the government to use federal prohibitions to block distribution. Without an exemption from federal law, the Oakland cooperative and similar groups cannot legally dispense the medical marijuana that many health professionals say is significantly superior to synthetic alternatives. One adverse consequence of the government’s drug war is the damage it does to confidence in public institutions and in particular the judicial system. The war continually recruits new enthusiasts for jury nullification. It has The New York Times editorially recommending that states consider getting into the marijuana distribution business for the chronically ill. But the drug war also creates economic incentives for continuing failed policies that benefit participants both in and out of government. San Jose, Calif.-based eGetgoing.com announced recently that it had enlisted former Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey as its principal adviser. EGetgoing touts itself as the nation’s first Internet-based drug and alcohol treatment program. It promises to add a “revolutionary new capability” to traditional methods through online group programs and the use of audio and video conferencing technology. The company is positioning itself to cash in on court-ordered treatment programs for drug users. “We are extremely fortunate to have General McCaffrey as a partner,” said company president Barry Karlin in a written statement. “His experience and understanding of this devastating societal issue are invaluable.” Whether this is just the beginning of a new Internet-based commercial career for the general — perhaps as McCzar.com — only time will tell. Drug war officials are less dangerous chasing down money in Silicon Valley than shooting down misidentified missionary planes in Peru. But there are plenty of possibilities for societal mischief if these minions see government service as the first step to private sector jobs dependent on government-mandated programs. So let us hope that General McCaffrey will be a singular example of upward failure in the drug war industrial complex, and not a harbinger of things to come. His dismal record as drug czar holds little promise for success outside of government. An independent audit commissioned by Congress blasted McCaffrey’s management of the White House Office of National Drug Policy. During his tenure, he reportedly had 17 or so full-time staffers to handle public appearances and other media engagements. Drug czar self-promotion may not shut down any Colombian drug dealers, but it obviously helps in finding a new job. For three decades Milton Friedman has argued that government drug policy failures result from inherent flaws in regulatory schemes and enforcement actions that create huge economic incentives for criminal conduct. The biological laws that specify the characteristics of cats are, Friedman notes, “no more rigid than the political laws that specify the behavior of government agencies once they get started.” Bureaucratic DNA dictates disaster here, by making a bad situation much worse. Government measures in the misguided drug war have themselves become a source of evil, bringing in their wake ruined lives, huge jail populations, massive wealth for the world’s most dangerous criminals and increased misery in producing nations. And they have become so intrusive as to affect even doctor-patient relationships and interfere with end-of-life care for the dying. Nobody in a position of authority intended these results, but they were inevitable nonetheless. And they will in the main continue as long as policymakers believe that somehow, some way they can build the perfect regulatory system and win the war on drugs. “For the drug war … I am neither pessimistic nor optimistic,” said psychiatrist Thomas Szasz — another legalization proponent — in a television interview 10 years ago. “I think when enough people are injured by it, then it will change. Until then it won’t change.” Apparently, not enough people have been injured yet. But it’s not for want of government effort. George M. Kraw is a San Jose, Calif., attorney. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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