Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The simple case for legalization...

An outstanding opinion editorial appeared in yesterday's Washington Times, written by Terry Michael (the former press secretary for the DNC and current executive director of the nonpartisan Washington Center for Politics and Journalism). The piece, written as an open letter to Senator Orrin Hatch, tears apart drug prohibition and makes a point-by-point argument for the decriminalization and legalization of drugs. I strongly suggest you read the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:
Our policies result in tremendous harm creation, about which much has been written, but I'll summarize here:

Denial of liberty. Our drug war constitutes an assault on individual liberty, privacy and choice, from both the left and right. Liberals fight for a woman's right to abortion and conservatives go to the ramparts to defend gun owners, but both agree to throw into prison an adult who smokes dried, leafy vegetation. With impunity, we can drink ourselves stupid and destroy our lungs with tobacco. But using a recreational substance as old as wine will get us jailed.
Waste of treasury. When our resources should be directed at lawful attempts to keep dangerous politicized religious fanatics from entering our country, we spend tens of billions futilely trying to interdict chemicals, most of which, in moderation, are demonstrably no more harmful to the body than alcohol and tobacco.
Government-created violent black market. Alcohol did not create Al Capone. Prohibition created Al Capone, with the mayhem, official corruption and murder that accompanied the 18th Amendment. And cocaine does not create drug cartels. America's War on Drugs creates drug cartels.
Government violence against its own people. With guns blazing, law enforcement agencies not only deny life, liberty and property to those who work in the government stimulated black market; they rack up untold "collateral damage," maiming and killing innocent bystanders, in countless stings gone bad.
Promoting disrespect for the rule of law. With millions of Americans scoffing at the China-like oppressiveness of the War on Drugs, our policies undermine respect for the rule of law and our democratic policy-making institutions. As the drug warriors clog our courts and fill our jails, we disrupt the lives of the poor and the powerless, who can't afford crafty lawyers and have no political connections.
Health harm creation. Perhaps most important, our policy is creating untold health harm to millions, particularly the young. We educate them about the responsible use of two potentially very dangerous, but legal, substances, but we try our best to keep them ignorant of the real effects, and side effects, of other psychoactives. While hundreds of thousands die each year from the short- and long-term health damage of alcohol and tobacco, no one succumbs to marijuana, and remarkably few die from other illegal drugs.

None of that argues for use of psychoactives of any kind, legal or currently illegal, particularly by young people with unformed intellectual and emotional lives. But it makes a powerful case for bringing other substances out of the shadows with decriminalization and legalization, and for spending some of those wasted billions on education, harm reduction, and, when needed, addiction treatment. The obsession of drug warriors with cutting off supplies of softer drugs has pushed thousands to try the bathtub gin of Neo-Prohibitionism, crystal methamphetamine.
It sounds so simple and, well, sensible when Mr. Michael lays it out like this. So why is it so damned difficult for senators like Orrin Hatch to get it??

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1 comment:

800 pound gorilla said...

While admittedly, there is always a small minority of chronic abusers of illegal drugs who are not smokers, problem users of most illegal drugs are, in general, a subset of cigarette smokers. That's why there never will be study linking use of illegal drugs to degenerative diseases and chronic health problems. You can't seriously claim cause for these problems when the patient is a two pack a day nicotine addict. The damage caused by smoked marijuana [commonly used in confectionaries], smoked meth, smoked cocaine [normally ingested], or smoked fentanyl[normally used as patch] or any variety of drugs normally used in different manners but adapted to smoking by criminal suppliers.

While the legisliars will gleefully point out any and all possible links from banned drugs and health problems, as long as cigarette addiction is a leading indicator of problematic use of banned drugs the scale of proof will always be short in supply. As long as criminals continue to exploit the "quick fix" mentality produced by tens of billions in pharmaceutical ads the dream of eradicating the number of smokers in our population will be doomed. Use of illegal drugs is a gateway to smoking cigarettes and smoked nicotine kills millions annually decades before their time.