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TribBlog: Legalize It? You Must Be High

Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske laid out the case against legalizing marijuana and other drugs today at a border security conference.

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Advocates pushing for the legalization of drugs in this country have a long fight ahead of them if current “Drug Czar” Gil Kerlikowske has anything to say about it.

Kerlikowske, known officially as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, spoke this morning at a border security conference in El Paso, where he tried to debunk the belief that taxing and regulating currently illegal narcotics would somehow put narco-traffickers out of business.

“[Traffickers] would not change their ways and turn to legal pursuits if drugs were legal,” he said. “Legalizing drugs makes them cheaper, makes them more accessible and therefore makes them more widely abused.”

He added that this country’s current problem with prescription drug abuse should serve as an example of why legalization could lead to a similar crisis.

“We actually have [prescription] drugs that are highly legal, highly taxed, highly regulated and highly controlled. We have found as a country [that] we are totally incapable of keeping those drugs out of the hands of young people,” he said.

And while some argue that marijuana causes less health damage than alcohol or tobacco, Kerlikowske said the societal costs stemming from abuse of those legal substances should serve as a cautionary tale.

“Money that’s collected in taxes on nicotine and ... alcohol at the state and federal level does not even begin to compare to the social and criminal justice and health care costs as a result of nicotine and … alcohol abuse,” he said.

Kerlikowske acknowledged that Mexican President Felipe Calderón has indicated an openness to discuss legalization, but he also urged a closer evaluation of legalization there.

“More drugs readily available would risk a disaster for the people of Mexico … [and] Mexico’s social costs would rise in terms of public health and public safety,” he said.

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