"I see America with half the number of prisons, half the number of prisoners, ten thousand fewer homicides a year, inner cities in which there’s a chance for these poor people to live without being afraid for their lives, citizens who might be respectable who are now addicts not being subject to becoming criminals in order to get their drug, being able to get drugs for which they’re sure of the quality" -MF
On January 4, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered a hit to burgeoning marijuana legalization effort by rescinding the policies of federal non-interference with marijuana-friendly states.
Is this really the way forward? In fact, is this really about marijuana or is it about the entire misguided War on Drugs that Richard Nixon started in the late 1960s and has now cost over $1 trillion and yielded no discernable results? It seems more like politicians trying to solve the drug problem, essentially caused by government interference, with more government interference.
Some form of this debate has been going in the US for over 100 years -- it began with alcohol prohibition, which was enacted into law in 1920. Yet today, no thinking person believes the government should waste time, money and resources attempting to stop people from drinking. Why aren’t drugs held to the same standard?
During prohibition, alcohol was easily attainable, but instead of buying from privately owned, publicly regulated industries, citizens were forced to buy from criminals and traffickers. In turn, they funded criminal black-market cartels instead of the US economy. (The Canadian Samuel Bronfman, founder of what became Seagram, was one such “criminal,” who made his fortune illegally importing alcohol into the US). Besides the uptick in crime, the law was so unpopular and so flagrantly violated that prohibition was repealed just 13 years after it was instituted, in 1933.
The result of the drug war is strikingly similar. In 2016 the government spent more than $50 billion in its vain efforts and arrested over 1,572,579 citizens, 84 percent of whom were arrested solely for possession. Over 200,000 students lost federal financial aid eligibility because of drug convictions, while the number of drug overdoses in 2016 hit a staggering 64,070 in the USA. It is strikingly clear that government crackdown is not in any way halting the drug trade worldwide.
In fact, drug criminalization is little more than the state protecting its citizens from their own choices, and then making other citizens pay for that protection. In his book “Free to Choose” the economist Milton Friedman, a strong advocate of drug legalization, said, “I do not think it is moral to inflict costs on other people to protect individuals from their own choices.” I couldn’t agree more.
This is not to say that all regulations should be done away with. There is a clear consensus that it is necessary to criminalize drunk driving because it puts innocent citizens at risk, so, why not adopt similar laws for irresponsible use of drugs? The legal marijuana states have done this to great success.
To those who say that full drug legalization would unleash chaos in the streets, you don’t have to look much further than Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs in 2001, and doesn’t prosecute anyone possessing less than a 10-day supply of any substance.
- The rate of HIV infections has plummeted from 1,016 to just 56 in 2012.
- Overdose deaths have dropped from 80 to just 16 in 2012. Portugal’s drug-induced death rate is 5 times lower than that of the European Union’s.
- Most surprisingly, adult heroin drug use has been cut in half. Today the country counts about 50,000 heroin users -- down from 100,000 in the pre-decriminalization days. Most users are in ongoing substitution treatment such as methadone maintenance and depending on the severity of their addiction, are given varying degrees of psychological, and medical treatment.
At the same time, Portugal has continued to arrest and prosecute illegal drug dealers and traffickers, whose numbers have also plummeted.
Besides the money saved by curtailing the War on Drugs, drug legalization would yield other significant benefits in the US.It could slash the number of citizens currently in prison. Our federal prisons hold 207,847 inmates, almost half of them there for drug offenses. State prisons hold over 1.3 million inmates; 16 percent are there for drug convictions.
Without the criminal incentive to buy or sell drugs, criminal industries would go bankrupt and the violence they bring with them would likely diminish. Drugs themselves would be produced under strict guidelines in labs -- not in garages or warehouses -- and be distributed in restricted dosages. Their chemical content could be verified and regulated and no longer cut with random substances -- poisonous or otherwise -- that result in so many unnecessary deaths.
Faced with the overwhelming evidence of the disastrous effect of drug criminalization and the positive impact of its alternative, it is only too clear that Sessions, and those that support his misguided effort on marijuana, are trying to fight a 21st century problem with outdated 20th century solutions.
It is time for new and modern thinking when it comes to the drug issue, and once more, it seems government is looking backwards, rather than forwards for a solution.