I don't agree with The Economist on everything, and in fact strongly disagree on some matters. But their articles are generally lucid and interesting and they rarely fail to provide at least the semblance of a reasonable argument.
This editorial, in advance of the United Nations summit on drug policy, is one of the magazine's finer moments. With typical pithiness, the editorial declares that "prohibition has failed; legalisation is the least bad solution"
There's a fair-minded evaluation of both sides of the question:
“Least bad” does not mean good. Legalisation, though clearly better for producer countries, would bring (different) risks to consumer countries. As we outline below, many vulnerable drug-takers would suffer. But in our view, more would gain.
In short, while ending prohibition could on balance be a good thing for the rich countries where people take most of the drugs, the real benefits would be in the poor countries that are currently being turned into war zones by the gangsterism that illegality promotes. This is basically what I've argued before on this blog, but the editorial puts it particularly well:
In the developing world blood is being shed at an astonishing rate. In Mexico more than 800 policemen and soldiers have been killed since December 2006 (and the annual overall death toll is running at over 6,000). This week yet another leader of a troubled drug-ridden country—Guinea Bissau—was assassinated.
An aside. The horrors of drug-related crime and violence suffered by Colombia in the 1990s are well known. The country is somewhat more peaceful and orderly now, which is often credited to the hard-line security policies of Alvaro Uribe. Taking a longer view, histories of the cocaine trade describe how the centre of power moved from Colombia to Mexico in the 1990s after resources were poured into defeating the Cali and Medellin cartels and shutting down the Caribbean routes into the US. Is the current chaos in Mexico coincidental, or have all the law enforcement battles merely shifted the violence from one country to another?
As a staunchly internationalist, though anglocentric, publication, the Economist is able to point out how ludicrous it is to address addiction in Western cities by turning Latin America, Asia and Africa into a battle zone, Sadly, with their eye on the the anxieties of their own middle class voters, the politicans attending the latest international conference in Vienna may not see it the same way.