Mar 27, 2009

On Rethinking U.S. Drug Policies

Left: Elvis, the original drug warrior

I entered a debate recently on a local bulletin board about a news story documenting the fact that eight states want to enact drug-testing laws for welfare recipients, and this essay is an outgrowth of that conversation. The proposal seems ill-advised on a number of levels, and I view such schemes as nefarious efforts by governments and corporations to further encroach upon the private lives of individuals.

I am concerned first about the children of drug abusers. Should kids get penalized because their parents might smoke weed? I am all for reasonable limits on public assistance, especially direct cash aid, but to deny WIC or housing subsidies because a parent also has substance abuse issues is short-sighted.

Besides, the intrusion of drug-testing in so many facets of our lives should be disturbing to people who purport to uphold freedom. If a person chooses to imbibe, and harms no one (i.e., intoxicated driving or drugged out domestic violence), why should the government or employers be able to have this much power over the private lives of individuals?

The so-called War on Drugs has been an utter failure, and this is just an extension of these wrong-headed policies. Decriminalize drugs, tax them, and use the tax proceeds for education and addiction treatment. Five percent or more of the population is going to choose self-destructive drug-abusing behavior at some point, and no laws will stop people from frying their brains. There are more ways to get high - legal and illegal - than the government could possibly outlaw, though they sure love to try to do so.

We should instead follow the model of the Dutch or the Portuguese: cordon off "safe zones" where users can get inexpensive fixes, while putting the emphasis on addiction treatment instead of punishment. The focus for prosecution thus returns to organized crime rather than nickel-and-dime addicts, freeing up jail spaces and lowering incarceration costs. The major benefit to non-users is that there are lower crime rates, since addicts no longer have to steal the possessions of everyone else to feed their artificially expensive habits. Add to this lower health care costs, since users have access to clean paraphernalia (fewer cases of AIDS or hepatitis), and the knowledge that standardized drug purity reduces overdoses.

I grow tired of reading about more Neanderthalian lawmakers who think the solutions to our drug problems are more laws and greater police powers. This sort of sneaky fascism actually reduces personal freedoms in the guise of crime prevention. Of course, most folks have been programmed to never question the received wisdom of the government, so my ruminations here will likely fall on plugged ears, but it is time to rethink the many failed drug policies that provide the foundation for the War on Drugs.

Which drug will be next, by the way? Nicotine is already heading in that direction, and I now have to answer to the government every time I pick up a package of Sudafed. Will they chase down caffeine in the expanding War on Drugs? How about alcohol, the number one drug associated with human death?

At some point we have to recognize that this mania over drugs is more trouble than it is worth, and this statement does not even take into consideration the many billions of dollars spread out by drug kingpins into the palms of corrupt government officials around the globe (and yes, even in the good ol' U.S.A.)

But go ahead, folks: stay focused on the WELFARE CHEATS and CRAZY DRUG ADDICTS who are STEALING YOUR TAX DOLLARS and LIVING LARGE LIKE LEECHES. It is much easier to sleep at night when you have such simple headlines featuring cartoon-like villains to blame. Thinking about government corruption and bankers laundering tens of billions of dollars in drug money is hard work, and will give you headaches like the one I am getting right about now.

Yes, nothing to see here. Go back to your happy lives and keep nodding your head when Joe or Jane Politico thumps the legislative podium and denounces DIRTY DRUG ABUSING SCUM. Oh, and practice that Deutscher Gruß - you might be needing it in a few years.


Anonymous said...

I would arfue that wlefare in itself is a drug that has addicted many and has them living in sub-par conditions when they could be doing much better for themselves on their own.

As far as the Hitler reference of anti-drug "enthusiasts," not sure where Hitler stood on pot, but he was adamantly opposed to smoking and bans were placed on tobacco. Do you feel that tobacco bans are equal encroachments on our rights?

I understad the argument about the "right" to smoke pot because you are supposedly not affecting anyone else, but rights need to be balanced with a social moral order, thus the Constitution. Where pot falls in the social moral order - I'm only 23, I haven't figured that out yet!

"young" Tom

historymike said...

Not-so-young Tom:

1. Agreed that welfare is a financial addiction, and when you find multiple generations of families for whom welfare is a way of life, something needs to change. I only support assistance for those unable to work: children, the disabled, and the diminished elderly. However, in the linked article the unintended effects are glaringly clear: children will pay the price, and the short-term savings in WIC or housing subsidies will be dwarfed by escalating foster care costs after these children are deemed to be neglected.

2. Accommodations to limit indoor exposure to smoke are reasonable, since the freedom of smokers to smoke begins to affect the "pursuit of happiness" of non-smokers. However, the draconian laws that prohibit smoking in outdoor gatherings are absurd, and the rise in the number of private corporations drug-testing and firing smokers is equally bizarre.

3. As far as pot: I do not drink, smoke, drug, or alter my consciousness in any chemical way, though I had my share of intoxicants before I chose a life of inebriant abstinence early in this decade. From what I have read, pot is only psychologically addictive, and it tends to pacify people more than turn them into psychotic loons, as alcohol sometimes does. Still, even with the hard drugs the only real effect the War on Drugs has created is a tremendous rise in prices, which means that users have to find illegal means of paying for their habits. There are quite a few people who prosper from supplying the substances users demand, from drug dealers to government oficials on the take to bankers laundering untold billions. Bringing the drug economy into the light of day will provide tax revenue for addiction treatment, plus eliminate the profit motive that funds the organized crime that is the real plague.

Anonymous said...

I would go further on smoking bans in private restaurants, bars, etc. and say those are draconian measures violating private property rights. I understand government owned places with smoking bans, but not private property owned by private citizens. But that debate's been had...

I smoking pot were legal, would employers still be able to fire those who violated their drug policies?


microdot said...

Legalizing marijuana would go a long way to defusing the criminal side to drug trafficking. Americas hypocritical appetite which starts at the top and it's neanderthal response is the engine that fuels the drug trade.

Legalizing marijuana would enable us as a society to deal with it on a saner level. It could be discussed rationally. The mere act of normalizing it would put it on the level of alcohol.
Alcohol is a potentially dangerous substance, but generates a huge revenue. People will abuse it and some personalities are unable to deal with it.
I personally am convinced that the abuse of marijuana by an uneducated population during the 70's has become the major factor almost second to cigarettes in the statisstical rise of lung disease we are seeing now.

And, of course, the use of marijuana could be monitored by employers in jobs that demanded sobriety.

I just don't see America being able to make any rational decisions regarding this in the near future.

In Obama's town meeting the isssue was brought up and he wisely defused it and jokingly dismisssed it.
It was sabotage of the open end question process by conservatives who tried to generate a situation where Obama would answer the question with a potentially embarassing answer that they wanted to exploit.
Obviously, a Town Hall meeting is not the appropriate place to discuss Americas schizo drug problem!

dr-exmedic said...

I smoking pot were legal, would employers still be able to fire those who violated their drug policies?
Employers are allowed to fire smokers despite tobacco being legal....

Peahippo said...

Drug addiction is better treated as a medical problem than a criminal one. In general, Europeans do that, which is why they have a better civilization in general terms.

With our proclivity towards Fascism, living in the USA becomes more hellish with each passing decade. We don't have official socialized medicine. We don't have fuel-efficient transportation. We stuff our jails full of "drug offenders". We ignore our constitutions more and more. And now our worship of money has produced the largest financial crash, ever ... which is going to destroy the middle class.

I regret being born here. My surrounding culture is going literally insane with fear and greed. This must be exactly akin what it was like to live in Germany in the 1930s.