The Drug Wars

19 Jan

The War on Drugs has been raging for as long as I’ve been paying attention to politics. If, in that time, there has been a period as long as three months when it was not possible to get any of the common illegal drugs in any city of the land, I am not aware of it.

Personally, I have scant use for illegal drugs. I smoked a little pot when I was a good deal younger, and that’s about it for me. But I’ve had friends who were serious junkies, and they were pretty sad people. But I’m not at all clear that if the drugs had magically gone away one day that their lives would have been any better.
I’ve also know people who were strongly against various dangerous drugs, both legal and illegal. They have been, by and large, pushy, overbearing, condescending jerks who expected me to put my life in hold, and put up with any degree of inconvenience, in the name of their pet Crusade. All things taken together, I’ll take the junkies. At least when they steal from me they don’t get the government to do it for them or get all sanctimonious about it.
In the 19th Century Marijuana, Heroin, and Cocaine were regulated in some states, but hardly all. In many states that went officially dry, as the “Temperance”  movement gathered momentum, they remained legal, and interestingly the major drug abuse problem in such states remained drunkenness. Absolutely determined not to learn from experience, the Anti-Saloon movement (as the Temperance movement had become) pushed ahead with Prohibition, which for thirteen years was hands-down the least effective legislation ever passed on a National level.
There is some evidence that the federal laws that were passed in the 1930’s were pushed, at least in part, as full-employment-for-ex-prohibition-agents. Further, they were passed amidst a blizzard of the kind of “We gotta keep them darkies in line” swill more usually associated with the Klan. The laws worked about as well then as they do now.
I’m not arguing that the drugs that are illegal are good for people. I think that the ‘marijuana has so many medicinal uses’ argument is largely bushwa. But the war on drugs doesn’t work. It has huge costs. It causes a fair amount of collateral damage. It causes police departments to ‘arm up’, and once they have the toys, they find some way to use them, which results in full-bore hostile entry raids on poker games and similar silliness. And the DEA admits (in every yearly almanac I’ve checked, anyway) that the ‘regular users of illegal drugs’ (defined as once a month or more) amount to maybe 16 million people, of which slightly over 10 million are basically pot smokers. So ‘hard drugs’ have a market of about 6 million, out of an adult population of 270 million. At slightly over 2%, that isn’t an epidemic; it’s a hiccup.
And there is one drug, or family of drugs that do good; the painkillers. The opiates. Yes, they can be dangerous. But for people with chronic pain, they are the only effective relief. And the government is so worked up over the possibility that some people might use such drugs to get high that they are persecuting doctors who specialize in the treatment of chronic pain, and thus their patients that suffer from it. The government claims that they are not interfering in legitimate treatment of pain, but even a casual examination of the recent history of drug enforcement shows that this is a wildly optimistic statement.
This is barbaric. There is no possible excuse for it. No number of already self-destructive people temporarily frustrated is worth even one person in chronic pain who cannot get what they need. I am more comfortable with the idea of deliberate torture than I am with the notion that it is acceptable to keep some people in permanent pain in order to prevent some other people from drugging themselves for fun.
If the drug war showed any sign of success, I would be prepared to listen to arguments in its favor, based on the idea of saving people. I do not believe that the ends justify the means, but I am prepared to explore the notion that the results sometimes do. And, as I have said, in my experience junkies are sad, wasted people. But I have not seen, in my lifetime, any signs of success in the drug war. It corrupts government at all levels. It encourages a Gangbusters mentality in the police that fits poorly with the rights of free people. But worst of all is that it accomplishes little or nothing useful. It is time we did what any sensible person would do about a war that had been going on without conclusion for almost a hundred years.

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