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U.S. drug policy is a poor model

January 25, 2008

Re "U.S. official criticizes Chavez," Jan. 21

White House drug czar John P. Walters should think twice before criticizing a foreign government for its drug policy, much less holding the United States out as a model.

Looking to the United States as a role model for drug control is like looking to apartheid South Africa for how to deal with race. This country leads the world in per-capita incarceration rates, with less than 5% of the world's population but almost 25% of the world's prisoners. About 500,000 people are in U.S. prisons and jails today for violating a drug law; that's almost 10 times the total in 1980.

Despite this dismal record, the United States has succeeded in constructing a global drug prohibition regime modeled after its own highly punitive and moralistic approach. Rarely has one nation so successfully promoted its own failed policies to the rest of the world.

Ethan Nadelmann

Executive Director

Drug Policy Alliance

New York

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