War against drugs gets complicated

Attorney General Eric Holder seems to be getting soft on crime with his call to cut down on sentencing low-level users and dealers to long terms in federal jails for drug crimes.

And while we think legalization is still a bad idea until proven otherwise, we’ll acknowledge that Holder is recognizing that the war on drugs is not being won by merely locking up individuals. The networks of suppliers continue to function and grow so long as the demand is there.

And the demand side is the worrysome side for anyone who fears rampant growth in the use of narcotics. Criminal drug supply enterprises wouldn’t be so pervasive if there was not a booming marketplace for the junk they sell.

Holder is responding to a few changes, including an opportunity presented by the liberalization of societal norms evidenced by the passage of legalization of pot in places including California and Colorado and Washington state.

Those votes are indicative of a change of societal norms.

The Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers they spawned are giving way slowly but surely to control of generations that have a different view of drugs and morality and the law.

The United States cannot afford its prison bill, nor can it continue to figure out what to do with truly serious lawbreakers if the federal system is filled with low-level drug criminals.

It is a frightening realization that the guys on the wrong side of the drug laws are winning simply because there are so many of them. No less a conservative than Newt Gingrich said the human cost is terrible when one of every 31 people in the country is in prison, on parole or on probation.

The answer surely lies in prevention and treatment to control the demand, as well as busting and jailing those at the top of the drug chains.

We think it’s a mistake to simply stop enforcing laws because the laws were enacted by representatives of the people, so Holder can issue whatever call he wants. Until the people speak, federally as they have in a few states so far, the law of the land remains.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for changing societal views to become entrenched in changed laws. The already immobile and divided Congress may have a new set of battles on its hands.