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Steinberg: Starting to win the drug war

A youngster smokes marijuana. | Norberto Duarte/AFP/Getty Images

It was always crazy that you could buy a gallon of vodka at any grocery store, while a joint would land you in a jail.

But “crazy” is one of the more apt adjectives describing America’s War on Drugs, a multi-decade, multibillion-dollar effort that in the end . . . assuming this is, please God, the beginning of the end . . . produced what? Plentiful, ever cheaper street narcotics and a prison system jammed with drug offenders.

More than half of the inmates in the federal prison system are there for drug offenses. As are nearly a quarter of those in state prisons.

OPINION

True, most are there for hard drugs, which is an actual social problem. About 12 percent of prisoners in the state and federal systems are there for selling marijuana. That’s still more than 100,000 people, all for involvement with a drug that has killed . . . well, nobody ever.

On Thursday, the Illinois Senate took another baby step toward sanity by decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. Sure, pot isn’t healthy, and not a very productive use of your time. But if mind-numbing time wastes were crimes, then a whole lot of folks would be in Stateville on an Xbox rap.

It’s uncertain whether Gov. Bruce Rauner will sign the bill, though as a guy already lashing out at the unions and at Chicago, he might decide to go with the flow, for once, and approve of a popular measure. Americans are tired of this war.

Anyone concerned about a nation in gridlock — and any patriotic American should fear that more than the Russians and ISIS put together — has to cheer this development, as nearly half the states, including Illinois, have legalized marijuana in some form. Even people who never smoke pot — i.e., me — have to welcome the reduced waste of police and judicial resources, the money saved, the eventual tax bonanza gained, should we follow Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington State and allow recreational uses.

There are two ways to view this. It could be seen as a victory for drug culture, for those who want a bit of impairment to help their lives slide by. Or it could be seen as a victory for good government, for allowing American citizens their supposed liberty to do as they please, to indulge in a recreation that harms no one. Maybe we’re at along last starting to win the war, but not in the way we had planned. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.