Masters of the Obvious: Burton asks the question like it's new, because in the world of congressmen and upper-level bureaucrats, it is a novel concept. It's the giant elephant sitting on the couch that no one wants to mention. Most politicians are afraid to mention it because once they do, they can be smeared as "soft on crime" and "anti-family" (whatever that is). We all know that alcohol is at least as addictive as some of the "hard" drugs, but no one is prostituting himself out at night to score some Boone's Farm strawberry wine because it only costs $4.99. Now, the first question is which drugs do you de-criminalize, because the answer cannot be "all" I don't think - at least not at first. Clearly marijuana, ecstacy, things like this could probably go first. One could argue that even drugs like heroin can be managed, if legal, because you can get people into treatment (less stigma), and if they relapse, they don't need to knock down a drug store or prostitute themselves to score, because their fix would drop from say $40/day for their fixes, to maybe $8 or less. This argument has merit, but with these drugs that are super-addictive and quite destructive, you need to have a plan to phase them in.
Anyway, I'm not an expert on this. Bringing it back to the original point, however, is that we have a puritan-minded society that doesn't act like one. This hypocrisy keeps us from treating our most alarming problems, like drugs. Part of the issue is that alcohol, although briefly repealed, was such a part of the world's social construct (hell, they serve it in church) that outlawing it really was trying to shake something that wasn't shakable. Other drugs don't have this history, and thus, are not ingrained into a social framework (very few pot parties in 1878, I imagine). Non-alcohol drugs have always had this stigma about them which makes people just feel wrong or somehow naughty doing them, even if the effect is milder than their 4-martini lunch. It's an image thing. Maybe we need Madison Avenue to get on board.