I have seen several news and op-ed items lately that conflate marijuana legalization with "ending the war on drugs." The latest is from Katrina vanden Heuvel in the Post, which has the title "Time to End the War on Drugs" but turns out to be mostly about marijuana.
The campaign against marijuana is certainly the most ridiculous part of our drug policy -- it isn't any worse for you than whiskey, and is a lot less likely to kill you. So I support moving ahead with marijuana legalization, and think the ballot measures in Colorado and Washington are good news.
But that is only a small part of the "war on drugs," which is mostly about cocaine, methamphetamine, and opiates. Most of our drug prisoners are in for offenses related to those harder drugs. The Mexican cartels do make money from marijuana, but it is really a side business for them and they could get along quite well without it. So legalizing marijuana will not solve the problem of bulging prisons, rampant drug violence, and untreated abuse.
Does anybody think that the US might, any time soon, legalize cocaine or heroin? I don't. In fact, I can't really imagine it. I support an approach that emphasizes treatment over prison, but I fear the war on drugs will be with us for a long time yet, whatever comes out of the legalization experiments in Washington and Colorado.