May 8, 2006

On Loretta Nall, Drug Laws, and Politics

(Toledo, OH) Our nation has been on a crusade against intoxicating substances since the nineteenth century. Etched into our national character seems to be a Prohibitionist itch that cannot be satisfied, no matter how often we scratch it.

Before progressing further, let me make a confession - I do not drink, smoke, or use drugs, save those prescribed by my physician. I say this not out of pride but rather for people who might make judgments about me being some sort of caricature of a pot-smoking hippie.

I did, in my wilder days, travel down the road of inebriation, but that is altogether another story.

Loretta Nall is a Libertarian candidate for governor in Alabama. Her campaign itself is intriguing, and her website details many of her proposals; some I wholeheartedly support, and there are others with which I disagree.

This is not an essay about Nall's "Vote Nall Y'all ... It's Just Common Sense" campaign.

Nall's decision to run for governor is based upon a series of life-changing events in which she became ensnared in the American jihad against intoxicants. Read her bio on her Nall for Governor website for a more detailed chronology of her bizarre ordeal.

The drama began when she saw a helicopter flying over her Alabama house looking for marijuana plants. Nall says that she never grew any plants, and did not think much of the flyover at first, although she videotaped the chopper when it began to circle her house.

Things got a little strange, though, when in her words, "7 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies roared up the driveway in big black trucks with tinted windows and loaded ATV trailers." The entourage left when Nall demanded to see a search warrant.

Gripped with a sense of righteous indignation, Nall fired off a letter to the editor of the Birmingham News. She believed that she had performed her civic duty, and thought that she was merely standing up for the constitutional rights of American citizens.

However, Nall inadvertantly marked herself with the dangerous label of "activist" when her letter was printed.

Police returned with a search warrant based upon her letter to the editor, and thus a 3-year odyssey of judicial horror began. The police claim to have found a letter addressed to Nall in her home that contained .87 grams of marijuana in the form of a couple of seeds and a charred piece of rolling paper.

Nall was arrested, had her children temporarily removed from her home by children's services, and ultimately paid a $250 fine after being convicted of a misdemeanor.

The state of Alabama spent several hundred thousand dollars investigating, prosecuting, and adjudicating this case.

In Loretta's words: "Thus began my counter-attack, what has become a life consuming, all out frontal assault on U.S. drug policy."

There exists in this country a prison-industrial complex that is dependent upon the steady influx of drug offenders to maintain both its existence and continued profitability. Millions of Americans have been herded through the nation's prisons in a failing effort to eliminate drug abuse and addiction-related crime.

It is time to change what we are doing.

Over 80 percent of property crimes are committed by drug users seeking to support an expensive, illegal habit. The War on Drugs has accomplished little, except to drive the price of illegal intoxicants to stratospheric levels.

Our efforts to outlaw alcohol in the 1920s and 1930s were a complete failure. Alcohol use actually increased during Prohibition, and the trade in illegal alcohol fueled the rise of organized crime.

There are people who will habitually seek a state of intoxication irrespective of the laws. My father, a retired police officer, told me that the poorest panhandlers would steal products like mouthwash or shoe polish for their alcohol content when booze was not available.

The most sensible direction that we could embark on would be to decriminalize drugs, tax them, and focus our energies on educating people about the dangers of the hazardous intoxicants. Rather than a criminal issue, drug abuse should be a health care issue.

Of course, the times that we as a nation opted first for common sense are far fewer than those in which we became swept up with the mania of Prohibitionist zeal.


Anonymous said...

Legalize it!

Good article, Mike.

Anonymous said...

I want Nall for President

Praguetwin said...

Way to go Mike!

I've heard this story repeated on the north coast of California over and over. I knew a guy who eventually lost his propery fighting the charges, which he eventually cleared himself of. His legal bills forced him to sell.

In the Czech republic, there is a weak window cleaner that people drink. It only costs 30 cents for a bottle about the size of a coke, and one gets you smashed. My wife's aunt used to drink it to hide her alcholism. I watched a homeless guy pound a bottle of it on the street once and go into a coughing fit. All his friends kept slugging on their beers and generally igonring him.

But the best was the story I heard from my Russian friend who said when Gorbachev tried to ration vodka, guys on the construction site would put a bit of cloth on the end of a drill and stick that into a can of enamal paint and after about an hour, all the paint turns into a ball around it. They pull it out, and drink the clear fluid left behind.

You can not stop people from getting high. Period. The law should reflect that simple fact.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of fear over the possible explosion of use, rather than inflation of price, were most or all of these drugs decriminalized.

Similarly, one wonders what would happen were the final criminal penalty on alcohol rescinded...selling to minors.

historymike said...

I'm not a fan of legalization to minors, anonymous, for much the same reasons that I am opposed to the sale of alcohol to minors.

Statistically, the earlier that a person begins to drink or use drugs, the greater the likelihood that they will develop addiction later down the road.

I think our experience shows that prohibition increases, rather than decreases, the use of a given intoxicant.

Some attribute this to the "forbidden fruit" syndrome, whereby people have a greater temptation to use simply because it is illegal.

historymike said...

Good points, praguetwin, and I like your blog.

Name withheld to protect the guilty said...

Bravo, Mike!

One factoid to add is that we've managed to cut cigarette smoking by half in the last 50 years--amazing what we can do to a legal drug, while consumption of the illegal ones has been pretty flat, with little peaks and valleys here and there. Imagine what would happen if all the money currently going into prisons went into effective prevention instead.

-Sepp said...

I think weed ought to be legal. I never drank, smoked cigarettes or, bothered anyone back in the good ol days when I could partake. None of the people I ran with did either. A bunch of long haired guys drinking insane amounts of coffee, working on cars and talking politics...real menaces to society. We smoked weed because #1 we hated drinking beer and #2 we all agreed that drunks act like assholes. Some of the most respectable people in this city partake every so often and nobody would ever guess. The phrase "highest levels of government" may not always mean the rank structure! ;-)

Kurt said...

I have to disagree with you Mike. While I do agree that people with drug addictions should not be sent to prison, I believe firmly that people with drug addictions should be sent to rehab instead. Drugs are in prisons, and that is half the problem. Realistically, drugs should be illegal to the extent that people who are caught using them should be sent to rehab. Legalization, in my opinion, is not the best option. The key is to change the appropriate way to deal with drug abusers.

Kurt said...

And for those of you that might disagree, I'm not referring to pot.

Praguetwin said...

Thanks Mike,

I like yours too.


This is why any legalization plan should include rehab centers paid for with drug taxes. Unfortunately, the fact is you can't force anyone to rehabilitate. If you make it mandatory, you just get a prison with doctors and alot of wasted money.

There is no easy solution, but as you say, we shouldn't be locking up the users.

Hooda Thunkit said...

You know, if we legalize drugs there's a strong possibility that everyone wil start using/abusing them.

Then who would the media have to single out and pick on?

Otherwise, I think that it's a bad idea.

historymike said...

Thanks for weighing in, all.

My biggest wish is that we have a rational, practical national discourse about changing our tactics.

A few points on which we can all agree:

1. We all agree that drug abuse is a bad thing, just as alcoholism is a bad thing.
2. We all agree that the profit-seeking drug cartels are dangerous.
3. We agree (I think) that drug addiciton is a matter first of health care; simply locking up an addict for six months only interrupts regular abuse (setting aside the flourishing prison drug trade).
4. We agree that people working jobs outside of prison are more beneficial to society than someone rotting in a jail cell.
5. We agree that violent crime should be a higher priority to police than some crackhead or heroin addict zoning out in a flophouse.
6. We agree (I think) that drugs are especially risky for adolescents and children. Statistically, the younger a person is when they begin to consume alcohol or street drugs, the more likely they are to become an addict or alcoholic later in life.

What else do we agree upon?