I received a note from my friends at LEAP pointing to me an exchange in New Hampshire between John McCain and Bradley Jardis, a NH police officer. It's clear that McCain doesn't get what's wrong with the drug war. Jardis asked this question.
"I've served here in my state as a law enforcement officer for going on 9 years now, and after nine years working the street, I've come to the conclusion that the War on Drugs is a terrible failure... I have seen firsthand that the War on Drugs causes crime, it causes children to have access to drugs easier, and it does nothing to curb the problem of drug abuse. Just like Alcohol Prohibition after the the 18th Amendment passed, the country wised up and we passed the 21st Amendment which curbed the violence problem in this country greatly. What is it going to take for powerful politicians such as yourself to realize that the War on Drugs is a failure and we need to... we need to get smart about drugs, not tough. We need to be smart."
McCain, to his credit noted that first time drug offenders should be put into treatment programs instead of jail, but then went on to repeat every false prohibitionist talking point from the gateway theory that one puff of marijana will lead to addiction to hard drugs to alleging that alternate policies in other countries have failed. In fact, most have succeeded in reducing addiction and related crime and saved money on law enforcement costs.
McCain doesn't seem to grasp that prohibition created the drug cartels and then tries to trip up Jardis with a gotcha question of his own, asking whether Jardis supports the legalization of meth. You can the full quote at the link, or watch the exchange on the video, but this is the part of Jardis' response that generated the most applause.
There's no doubt that drugs are dangerous, but our policy does not do anything to help people who are addicted. If you arrest a 16-year-old for possession of marijuana, and they get a criminal conviction, you can get over an addiction but you can never get over a conviction. They lose their funding to go to college, and no one could ever say that keeping a kid from going to college accomplishes something good. Not at all.
McCain tried to dodge addressing the failures of policy in the war on some drugs by evoking the boogeyman of meth, but that's like ignoring a diagnosis of cancer because the patient suffers from dandruff.
It's worth repeating -- you can get over an addiction but you can never get over a conviction. Until our political leaders grasp the simple concept that drug abuse is better treated as a public health issue rather than a law enforcement problem, our tax dollars will continue to be wasted on treating peripheral symptoms instead of curing the underlying disease and 'dumb on drugs' tactics will continue to infect our policy.