Legalize it. All of it.
By Rick Segreda
Bertrand Russell, describing some of what he considered to be the impenetrable strangeness of Hegel's philosophy, rendered his judgement on his work thus: "the worse the basis of one's logic, the more interesting it's consequences."
This is a good starting point to contemplate some interesting facts relating to the consequences of the last sacred cow in both global and local politics: the drug war. According to theBureau of Justice Statistic's website,the Federal government spent $1, 531.8 billion dollars on drug control programs -- ranging from law enforcement to drug rehab -- in 1981. In 2001 the budget was 18,053.1 billion. And what about the states? According to a study commissioned by Columbia University, in 1998 State spending was $620 billion. Thirteen-point-one percent of that was spent on substance abuse and addiction.
Then there are the personal stories that travel the range of "interesting" from humor to horror and back. There was the recent tabloid hysteria over 16-year old Prince Harry reportedly smoking (shocking!) a joint, which was neck-and-neck with the latest reports of Osama Bin Laden's whereabouts in terms of leading the news. On the side of horror, "60 Minutes" had Steve Kroft in Colombia covering the American contribution to that country's own drug war, specifically it's exfoliating campaigns. American military planes have been spraying a superconcentrated form of "Round Up" on coca crops, which are often the only profitable crops for Colombia's many poor farmers. But the fallout is not only on the farmers losing out on their only means of making a living, but on subsistence crops, such as corn, depriving them of such necessities as, well, food. Despite the constant denials of a State Department spokesman, there was very clear evidence that the highly toxic weed killer was falling on civilians, and rural children, especially were showing the evidence of extensive and painful rashes. Furthermore, a World Wildlife Fund spokesperson confirmed that the spraying was permanently eroding what is left of Colombia's rainforest.
Back to humor again. Last year, when Robert Downey Jr. was busted yet again for use and possession of a controlled substance, "Entertainment Tonight" (or it might have been "Access Hollywood") reported that the Robert Downey's total cost to taxpayers for his being prosecuted, incarcerated, rehabilitated, re-apprehended, retried, reincarcerated, re-rehabilitated, re-apprehended, et cetera, was over five million dollars. When asked if this proved the ultimate futility of the drug war, a rehab clinic director defended the legal status quo, including the importance of routinely arresting and rehabilitating Robert Downey: "I don't think his daughter believes it is a waste of time. I don't think his parents think it is a waste of time."
So goes the root, the key, the faulty and perverted logic that is at the heart of one of the most futile, wasteful, wrongheaded, pointless, and socially destructive endeavors in modern history: the notion that it is up to governments on all levels to save individual citizens from self-destructive behavior. And it is bizarrely bipartisan. That the whole notion of government monitoring an adult's relationship to toxic substances is a complete betrayal of the principals of limited governance and individual responsibility never seems to bother Republicans. That the overwhelming majority of victims of the drug war in the states are racial minorities never seems to bother Democrats.
The conservative Rand Institute recently conducted a study that revealed obesity is the single most significant contributor to illness and death in these United States -- upwards of 300,000 people each year die from the consequences of excess fat and unhealthy diets.
So. Why don't we have Federal Agents raiding homes in order to seize pizzas and hamburgers? Why isn't the border patrol and customs strip searching individuals for Twinkie's and potato chips? And why not apply as aggressive a propaganda campaign against excess fat and carbohydrates as we do against tobacco and drugs? Really, why not start a Federal, State, County, and City War on Fat? Are our politicians afraid of offending the various corporate Meat, Dairy, and Sugar barons that bankroll their campaigns?
In a more rational world, we would have learned this lesson the first time around with Prohibition, which, as historians and sociologists acknowledge, far from solving the problem of alcoholism, it actually excacerbated it, and led to the rise of organized crime, a problem from which we have not recovered.
The usual argument against a worldwide repeal of the drug war is that drugs are not just individually self-destructive, but that a person's drug use impacts on his or her family and community. What would happen if motorists, doctors, airline pilots, et cetera, were free to do drugs with impunity? The sane response to this question is that we allow citizens to do drugs just as we allow citizens to imbibe alcohol (a liquid drug, by the way), and we prosecute them for actions that result from their abuse of it, so we allow citizens to do whatever they want to themselves as long their behavior is not destructive to others. Does this imply that there is such a thing as "responsible" drug use? Yes, even though the evidence is conclusive about how bad drugs are. But as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said of his work as an upholder of a free society, "my job is to let people drag themselves to hell."
It should be noted that there is one other possible way to "successfully" fight the drug war. We can look to the example of Singapore, China, and Iran, where even the most minor cases of possession can result in execution. Is this the direction we want to go?
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