Thursday, June 2, 2011

Perpetuating Prohibition

The Obama administration is attacking a report that calls for changes in how the global trade in illicit drugs is handled. Their contention is that following the recommendations of the study, including some legalization of drugs, would make the drug problem in the United States worse.

While I have mixed feelings about drug use (I've never tried them, nor do I want my kids using them, but I don't want the government to tell me or any other adult what they can or can't put in their bodies), I'm willing to admit that our current approach isn't working.  Before President Obama and Drug Czar Kerlikowske dismiss suggestions to change our approach, they should answer the following questions:

Since President Nixon declared the War on Drugs in 1971:
  1. Has the number of people in the United States who regularly use illegal drugs gone down, either as a percentage of the U.S. population or in total numbers?
  2. Have illegal drugs become harder or easier to get in the United States?
  3. How many American lives have been saved by the current policy of prohibition?
  4. How many excess deaths have occurred in the United States that can be tied to drugs or drug related crime, controlling for criminals who would have been killed anyway as a consequence of other crimes?
  5. What else could have been done with the billions of dollars spent on incarceration and interdiction that would have had a positive impact on drug addicts, to include education, prevention, and treatment?
  6. How many American citizens have been incarcerated as part of drug prohibition who broke no other laws?
  7. How many countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia have had what passes for a functioning government destroyed by the corruption of drug money?  
  8. How much time, blood, sweat, and treasure have we spent trying to stop Americans from using drugs, and what value have we gotten for those expenditures?

I'm not saying that anyone, of any age, should be able to get whatever they want at the local package store, but the current approach is not working.  All we have done is make drug use something that is done in the shadows.  Even casual users of drugs take their lives in their own hands since they don't know what their intoxicant of choice has been mixed with.  The amount of money that narcotics brings to traffickers has given them power to rival a nation state. 

Add to that the corrosive effect that drug enforcement has had on the relationship between police and the American population.  Were stories of people being shot in their own homes during raids, which even the police admit would not have led to arrests, common prior to 1971?  Did police regularly troll the interstate highway system looking for motorists who were carrying too much cash and impounding it?

Our failed policies on drugs need to change.  We need to admit that prohibition is not working, and allow adults to legally purchase and use whatever intoxicant they want and let them live with the consequences.  The safety of these intoxicants will go up as their production moves from Skeeter's garage to an inspected and regulated factory and their sale moves from a corner in a bad neighborhood to the local pharmacy or liquor store.  Our police will be able to concentrate on something other than drugs for the first time in a generation. Once the profits from narcotics trafficking dry up, the drug cartels will also dry up.  Money that would have been spent on interdiction, prosecution, and incarceration can be spent on education, prevention, and treatment, or not spent at all.

Yes, there will still be people who ruin their lives and the lives of others with drugs.  But the same happens with alcohol, gambling,  and other non-wholesome parts of our society.  Prohibition of alcohol was an unmitigated failure, and so is prohibition of drugs.


Julie said...

well said!!!!!!!

Shepherd K said...

Daddy Bear, I couldn't agree more. I'm with you in that I've never tried illegal drugs and would not want anyone related to me involved in them, but the sad truth is that there are people out there who are going to do what they want to do whether it's against the law or not. As with alcohol and tobacco, we need to criminalize misuse, insure a minimum standard of quality and tax it.

DaddyBear said...

Thanks Julie.

Shepherd, you just condensed a few hundred words into one paragraph, and said it better than I did.

Shepherd K said...

Really? Thanks. It's usually the other way around for me.

Kevin said...

Words of wisdom, unheeded:

Prohibition was introduced as a fraud; it has been nursed as a fraud.

It is wrapped in the livery of Heaven, but it comes to serve the devil.

It comes to regulate by law our appetites and our daily lives.
It comes to tear down liberty and build up fanaticism, hypocrisy, and intolerance. It comes to confiscate by legislative decree the property of many of our fellow citizens. It comes to send spies, detectives, and informers into our homes; to have us arrested and carried before courts and condemned to fines and imprisonments. It comes to dissipate the sunlight of happiness, peace, and prosperity in which we are now living and to fill our land with alienations, estrangements, and bitterness.
It comes to bring us evil-- only evil-- and that continually. Let us rise in our might as one and overwhelm it with such indignation that we shall never hear of it again as long as grass grows and water runs.

Roger Q. Mills, 1887

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