The drug war is largely a war on people who smoke marijuana. In 2010, there were 853,839 marijuana arrests in the United States, almost 90 percent of them for simple possession. At a time when state and local governments are laying off police, firefighters and teachers, this country continues to spend enormous public resources criminalizing marijuana, even though the law enforcement model clearly isn't working.
The U.S. has higher rates of marijuana use than the Netherlands, where marijuana is legally available. Decriminalization is a long overdue step. Taxing and regulating marijuana would render the drug war obsolete. As long as organized crime controls distribution, marijuana consumers will come into contact with sellers of hard drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. This "gateway" is a direct result of marijuana prohibition.
The writer is a policy analyst for the advocacy group Common Sense for Drug Policy in Washington.