Time to Rethink This Futile Drug War?
The more I hear about the nightmarish gang violence engulfing Mexico ... The more I read about prison overcrowding, often by people convicted of "victimless crimes" ...
The more I see small-town cops feeling compelled to go around armed and armored in paramilitary fashion, like Nazi stormtroopers ...
The more I wonder if we aren't overdue for a serious national debate about legalizing some currently illegal drugs.
Don't ask me which drugs. For someone who went to college in the 1960s, I'm ridiculously naive and underinformed on the subject. Believe it or not, I don't even know what marijuana smoke smells like. And maybe we really would be opening a Pandora's box if we legalized pot - not to mention things like cocaine, heroin and crystal meth.
All I know is that America's endless national "War on Drugs" has about it a distinct odor of failure, futility and maybe even fraud.
There have been flickers of discussion on this subject here and there. The City Council in El Paso, Texas, recently requested "a national dialogue on abolishing the anti-narcotics laws." I predict we'll be hearing more such talk.
To be sure, the use and abuse of illicit mind-altering substances produces many negative effects, both individual and societal. But the operative verb in the above sentence is "produces" - in the present tense. In other words, it's already happening. Many if not most of the people inclined to use those drugs are doing so despite their forbidden status.
The main difference, it can be argued, is that those now using certain drugs have to pay a lot more for them because they're illegal. And that fact, in turn to, creates big problems of its own.
A couple come to mind:
(1) The higher the street price for whatever drug a person is addicted to, the greater the chances that he will turn crime (and not the victimless kind) to get the money to pay for it - especially if he's a young street person leading a dead-end life that offers little chance of ever landing a decent job. Thus is one person's problem visited on the rest of us with a vengeance.
(2) The more money there is in illegal drugs, the greater the temptation for ruthless groups to horn into the market and drive everyone else out by whatever horrendous means necessary in hopes of creating a monopoly. That is what we're seeing in Mexico. An entire country is being systematically destabilized and terrorized by murderous, high-tech narco gangs out to profit from the seemingly insatiable demand for marijuana or cocaine or whatever - not down there, but up here.
Nor is simply building a higher, more electrified fence along the border going to begin to cut it. Those guys are using airplanes, tunnels, speedboats and even submarines these days, outfoxing us at about every turn.
Sorry, but there is an obvious parallel from nearly a century ago crying out for comparison: Prohibition.
Here you had another well-intentioned movement seeking to improve life in America by illegalizing another potentially addictive and socially destructive drug. But that law ultimately had to be repealed because, rather than ending the traffic in the drug in question, alcohol, all it did was drive it underground and - then too - fuel the rise of violent drug gangs. Can you say Al Capone?
It would be wonderful if we all could turn our backs on all mind-altering substances and spend our lives straight and sober. But until that miraculous day dawns, what would happen if we lightened up a bit and started taking the same sensible, realistic approach to, say, marijuana that we now take to liquor?
Suppose we began growing and processing the stuff out in the open, under the same kinds of carefully controlled conditions that now apply to another devil weed: tobacco. Suppose you could then walk into the ABC store and purchase a pack of pot in the same way you now buy a fifth of bourbon. The quality would be better, and surely the prices would be much lower than they are now - even after the state took its tax bite.
I know, I know. To most of us Americans, with our deep puritanical streak, all this sounds like a case of surrendering to evil, encouraging bad habits and generally letting it all hang out. Maybe it's not the answer. But might it at least be time to to start asking the question?
I'm just sayin'.
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2470 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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