Global drug war called failure: Time to legalize marijuana?

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(CBS/AP) Failure. That's the word a high-level international panel is using to describe the decades-long global war on drugs.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy panel issued a report that said, "Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won."

The commission said decriminalizing certain drugs would help nations "safeguard the health and security of their citizens." It said this recommendation applies especially to marijuana.

American drug officials aren't so sure.

White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said the report was misguided, and spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Rafael Lemaitre, said making drugs more available "will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe."

That office cites statistics showing declines in U.S. drug use compared to 30 years ago, along with a more recent 46 percent drop in cocaine use among young adults over the last five years.

But plenty of Americans are still using. According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 16.7 million Americans age 12 or older use marijuana. Another 760,000 people use MDMA (ecstasy), 730,000 Americans use meth, and 1.6 million use cocaine.

Drug use comes with major health risks. Marijuana increases risk for heart attack and cancers of the lung and digestive tract. Cocaine users risk heart attack, respiratory failure, stroke, seizure, or death from overdose.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has more on illicit drug use.

What do you think? Is the war on drugs a misguided failure? Time to legalize pot?

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