A buyer and a seller agree on price and exchange a commodity. Then, if the seller is working for the government, the buyer is thrown in jail and convicted to serve, say, 10 years with a $10,000 fine; if the buyer is working for the government, the seller is convicted. The government bargains with the convict for his life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness, if he will incriminate himself or any other buyers and sellers he knows. The government, with "judicial" stamp of approval, then spies on these other persons or breaks into their homes. It can use electronic eavesdropping, secret agents, search and seizure of person or property, bribe witnesses, set up a false business in the commodity, or examine all information (especially records of financial transaction) public or private about these persons. Finally, if the government gains any evidence, after thoroughly penetrating their privacy, that one of these persons (or anyone else they run across) ever possessed the commodity, used the commodity, handled money exchanged for the commodity, committed any action involving the commodity, they can convict that person to spend years in jail, pay fines of thousands of dollars, seize his property and business...and, of course, seize and destroy the commodity.
The Punch Line: The commodity is a particular psychoactive chemical identified in legislation.
Most Americans will accept that punch line as sufficient explanation for the actions of their government. To the rest of us, who have not had our day in the media, the punch line is at best ironical humor. It speaks to us of outrageous injustice, official deceit, and ignorant apathy...of fundamentally false dogma. The prevailing party line in America has indoctrinated our society in an extensive mythology about DRUGS. "Drugs are immoral and destroy the spirit"..."Drugs are harmful to our children and to the fabric of society"..."Drugs are responsible for organized crime, theft, and violence". Most Americans take smug comfort from what they are offered by the mass media. They see that only the poor, minorities, mobsters, or a few token entertainers are caught by the police. They hear every so often that "new scientific" evidence proves illegal drugs' dangerousness. They are given stories of incredible depravity, horrendous corruption, and lives destroyed all because of drugs. They easily acquiesce to public officials or editorialists who express the unassailably righteous condemnation of drugs. All this with cigarette or beer in hand...
Most of the prevalent attitudes about drugs range from poor perspectives to misrepresentations, contradictions, or simply falsehoods. One common perspective treats illegal drugs as a distinct class of evil, harmful substances. This attitude, for instance, is expressed when a comic strip about a shiftless alcohol addict (Andy Capp) is humorous and popular, while a hypothetical equivalent strip about a heroin addict would bring howls of outrage and condemnation for "corrupting young minds". This even in spite of the fact that being a heroin addict does not necessarily ruin lives, cripple the addict, increase crime and violence like alcohol addiction does - exactly contrary to the establishment's representation. A more profound understanding of the "drug problem", and consequently better policy concerning it, follows from realizing that attitudes toward drugs fundamentally contradict other attitudes. A most important contradiction is that drug laws violate the most basic beliefs in individual rational autonomy - freedom to choose for oneself how one behaves and what one does with his own body. Ultimately, the "drug problem" does not concern only a few illicit drug takers. Every American who pays taxes for the requisite police state, who knows someone harmed by drinking or smoking, who cares about his freedom to behave as he chooses will be affected by the current policy. After a review of the major arguments and evidence, the "drug problem" will appear to be aggravated and usually caused by drug criminalization. The repercussions of the current policy and social attitudes lead quickly to authoritarianism.
MoralityIn his book, Sex, Death, Drugs, and the Law, D. A. J. Richards remarks that all the efforts of an informed minority to urge drug decriminalization have careened off deaf ears because they have not argued on moral grounds ("only" practical, sensible, rational grounds)1. I agree, but cannot conclude that this makes "moral" arguments necessary. Morality is a little place high up in people's minds where they can ensconce their biases, protected and never questioned, cloaked in "nice" rationalizations. Morality is only a fancy label to justify "should" - the ubiquitous attempts by people to alter their own and others' behavior. For those whose game it is, arguments refuting anti-drug "morality" are available (see e.g. Richards). These arguments should be agreeable in their axiomatic form: "the proper and appropriate goal of each rational human being's choices and actions is his own well-being...the ideal society maximizes everyone's ability to choose what he wants to do...in his (and your) own self interest." This well enough describes "individual rational autonomy". Clearly, current drug policy thwarts individual's choices. The nature of the prevalent morality though is to label the people you don't like "evil", and to label those whose behavior you wish to change "possessed", "sick", or "irrational". From that conclusion, people feel justified in sanctioning the destruction of those persons' lives, prosecution, years of jail, and fines of thousands of dollars to "stop them from harming themselves". That these particular labels are wrong can be easily demonstrated. But that is just one anti-drug rationalization, facilely replaced.
The only real consideration should be that laws and society work. Only then are consequences observable--and policy adjustable, if need be. Since individuals (and not some mythical personification of society) themselves actually make the decisions, one might expect the goal and criterion they choose to be their maximum personal liberty. This would imply decriminalization of victimless "crimes" (read "crimes under existing laws"). Unfortunately, to this basic admirable principle, people are willing to add all sorts of exceptions: coercion of other people, repression of other's behaviors, "leave my rights inviolable and torture them"--even if "it's for your own good". Under our present tyranny of the majority, a religious intolerance of many non-conformist behaviors appears. However, since we cannot possibly expect this, the momentum of immemorial tradition, to change--since people are going to fill every possible opportunity to coerce others and gain advantage- I want to demonstrate that the current expedient system does not even give the majority, or anyone advocating drug laws, their maximum self-interest. The stark truth, if ever it were told, should outrage most Americans.
PerspectivesA proper perspective onto a situation assigns a varying priority to different parts of the situation based on a rational correspondence between internal values and external evidence. The priority can concern worth or urgency or perhaps simply an equal consideration of the evidence. Common perspectives on drugs though epitomize irrationality. The most painfully obvious misperception is that illicit drugs are in a real class by themselves, a class of "terribly harmful, invitingly abusable substances" --when they are only in a distinct legal class. The fact is that our culture's drugs of choice -alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine- are more harmful than most "illicit" drugs, and in no way more satisfactory drugs at that. The range of misplaced value judgments is awesome. Why are drugs that affect chemical equilibria in the nervous system more evil than ones affecting any other organ? Why are they more evil still if they affect higher brain centers than lower? Why are chemicals that our own society happens to have used for several generations less evil than ones recently imported from other cultures? Why does the desirability of a drug make it even more taboo? Psychoactive drugs are not "sin" or "temptation" or necessarily toxic; they are only one class of all the chemicals that affect the body--as do food, water, air, and the multitude of chemicals that consumers smear on their bodies, ingest, or inject. How many realize that far more "overdoses" from water (drownings) occur every year than from all illicit drugs together?2
Indeed, the harmfulness of most illicit drugs pales by comparison to what your doctors routinely prescribe for you. Just two straightforward examples: The most abused (by number of hospital admissions) psychoactive drug is valium with 54,000 cases a year (compare 6000 for cocaine, 12000 for heroin).3 Fifty tons (10 billion pills) of amphetamines are manufactured in the U.S. every year purely for purposes of human consumption.4 While amphetamines are "illicit drugs", huge quantities are legally ingested every day! The definition of legal psychoactive drug taker apparently is "whoever can buy a doctor". Fact: at any time 25% of women over 30 years of age have a prescription for a psychoactive drug (amphetamines, tranquilizers, or barbiturates) - 40% in the higher income brackets.3 "Medically justifiable"? Physician-caused illness from drug prescriptions led to 1.5 million or 3.5% of hospital admissions, 18-30% of hospital stays extended, and 30,000-140,000 deaths in 1983.5 Clearly our doctors are by far the worst "drug pushers" of all. They are responsible for by far the most "addictions" in this country.
Often ignored is the essentially religious nature of drug laws and popular attitudes. This is neither cute, nor facetious, for religion is precisely a system of behavior, however manipulative. "Drug taking" is a chosen behavior, a lifestyle, or even a worldview - no less worthy of protection than some organized religion! Any attempts to narrow religion to "historically established institutions that practice theism--especially if they are variations on Judeo-Christianism" simply provide for state enforced religious persecution. Anti-drug attitudes are no more than a religious dogma of intolerance. The supreme court "allowed" the American Hopis to eat their peyote only as part of their traditional "religious observances to the Great Spirit" - that is, only under suitably restricted Judeo-Christian equivalents - hypocritically denying that a college student can ingest them who seeks altered consciousness. A drug perspective absolutely must extend to other cultures, past and present (even real and potential). Scholars of the social sciences have uncovered the fact that all cultures and apparently for all times past have had their "drugs of choice".6 Indeed, drug use is at least as intrinsic to human nature as religion. Other cultures have heavily used the natural drugs around them, usually some plant's leaves, seeds, bark, or roots. Many were powerfully hallucinogenic or ideational; others inspired mystical experiences or revelations. It is the sad experience of Western culture (i.e.,Europe) that the natural drugs prevalent in western Europe were mostly anti-cholinergics (mandrake, jimson weed, nightshade, henbane), a class of dangerous, unpleasant drugs causing stupor, nightmares, delirium, death. So is tobacco. Our other historical drug was alcohol (the excrement of yeast). Both of these, our current "preferred" drugs, are powerful neurotoxins which simply alter arousal. Caffeine was a "dangerous new drug" only a few centuries ago, but the powers that be let us have a stimulant for our workaday culture.6
More abstract perspectives display the contradictions within popular anti-drug attitudes. Proudly professed "human rights" and "freedom" in this country conceal a systematic repression, coercion, and theft. What more fundamental right can there be than the freedom of an individual to independently evaluate and control his own experience?! And yet our society continually denies this to its members. "The young especially," we hear so often, "must be protected from drugs that hinder their mature development [into faithful cogs of the social machine]." Most who use illicit psychoactive drugs (for Americans under 35, this means "most", e.g.., more than 60% of college students2) do so because 1) they immediately realize the illicit drugs are not nearly so evil and harmful as the establishment claims (This is fact, any objective psychopharmacology book can inform you.), 2) they find the effects of drugs interesting - their environment is suddenly quite interesting and they become more self-aware, and 3) they are entertained by the drug and by the altered social interactions around them - existing and experiencing become more "fun". Given these standard reactions, what seems to be the problem?! The goal of most people's lives is fun and of course they will continue to use drugs if it satisfies them - if it gives them interesting and different experiences above and beyond banality. They then find themselves criminalized and morally condemned simply because of their personal harmless behavior. How would you react?! Such dishonesty, irrationality, hypocrisy, injustice, and authoritarianism inspires no small discomfort. Consequently, especially the young are hurt by the current policy: from the physical harm caused by the use of the legal drugs (especially alcohol) to an anti-establishment reaction they develop. This "anti-social" attitude originates not only in the guilt about their "crime", in the people they must associate with ("dealers"), or the excuse for rebellion or psychological distress now available in "illicit" drugs, but above all, in the immense disrespect for all the disproven values forced upon them by their elders. These "values" clearly become only double standards, intolerance, and peremptoriness.
MythsMany blatant contradictions comprise the Drug Mythology. In my opening scenario, I show how the drug laws violate free enterprise. Our belief in free enterprise has too often been obscured by intellectuals who label it, "the sanctity of commercial transactions" only to rationalize it away. Yet it really means "the free choice of individuals to exchange property they value". Similarly, the right of personal ownership of one's own body and the benefits of one's own productive output are also valued - only to be obliterated by the state. The current rationalization for this injustice is a paradoxical belief that the state can compel its members to be productive and that the "interests of society" supersede any and every individual's interests (especially when there is no conflict of interest!). Violations of the Constitution (detailed later), now common "for drug cases", are tacitly accepted by the courts and populace demonstrating that virtually any contradiction of our former basic principles is possible.
Regarding the role of the individual in society, an argument is often expressed that seems pragmatic: "The state outlaws drugs to assure the maximum productivity of individuals, hence to the benefit and in the interest of society as a whole - and for their own good too." Persons are not chattel for the state! Nor is their productive output the property of some abstract "society". In other parts of the world this is forthrightly called socialism, and the more say any government has over productivity, the more likely will military armaments or bureaucratic paperwork be what is produced. A moment's thought and the lessons from those parts of the world will show that an individual cannot be forced to be productive. More crucial, what is one man's idleness can be another's productivity; we must admit that this is a fundamental choice of the individual. Rationalizations involving the convenient, but false construct, society", ignore the fact that no demonstrable harm occurs to other individuals from the behaviors they seek to manipulate.
This sort of fundamentally flawed "pragmatic" argument even controverts the fact that drugs can be productive. The motivations behind the fallacy are obscure since no good evidence for it exists. Usually "convincing" anecdotes of teenagers turning on to drugs and dropping out of society are given. The causality here is probably reversed; the given social temperament makes drugs a good excuse for dropping out of the depressing educational rat race. Other frequent anecdotes are personal stories of professional success destroyed by a drug habit. Does this never happen for alcohol, or religious zeal, or insanity? On the contrary, the clinical description of amphetamine action is an increase in mental and physical ability. In other less Puritanical cultures we find marijuana use is continual and, they believe, necessary for their productivity and well-being. Studies of Jamaican culture show that no mental or physical ill-health occurs from this marijuana use, and that indeed, they do seem more productive.7 In the Andes, cocaine (coca leaves) is taken with the explicit intent to increase productivity, and everyone there admits that it does.8 Note that in these cross-culture comparisons we are testing the variable, "social beliefs". The nature of the action of drugs demands that the "state of mind" of the drug-taker influences the drug's effects; for instance, if you believe the drug might harm you, it will! But of course, we never hear this from the establishment, who relish the self-fulfilling propaganda of fear.
Another motivation for the productivity myth may come from the presumption that only "poets and philosophers" (or more contemporarily, "the poor and entertainers") might take drugs. The obvious assumption is that "these types aren't productive... farmers, assembly-line workers, etc. are really the productive types." Some "drug takers" are not simply motivated by "fun". This minority includes the entrepreneurs, the intellectuals, and the truly creative who have found that some drugs are superior alternatives to the legal drugs for creativity, awareness, and productivity. These people have always been the most important producers - responsible for all progress; they are the founders, not the followers.
HarmBy now, the anti-drug advocate has assured himself that no matter what is said, "drugs are too dangerous and harmful to be legalized". It must be admitted that in fact, drugs are dangerous. Many do die from illicit drugs every year; many are mentally crippled by them; many are hopelessly addicted; and many terrible "social problems" are associated with them. That is really beside the point. Everything is dangerous to some degree. Many die every year from too much air (hyperventilation), many are mentally crippled by religion, many are hopelessly addicted to food, and many terrible social problems are associated with people, but we do not outlaw these things. People do so many different activities and expose themselves to so many different substances that we can really only let them decide for themselves. First, we can scarcely expect to agree on what the relative benefits and costs are. While mountain climbing may be ultimately satisfying to a few, most will think it a useless brush with death. Second, the only way a paternalistic government can really guarantee the safety and "goodness" of an individual is to place him in a cage and regulate everything he does or comes into contact with. Besides being impractical, the government would (like now) probably let the prisoner die from industrial additives, pollutants, and malnutrition (if he didn't die of boredom first.) And who will cage the keepers?
The current canon of the anti-drug establishment treats illicit drug activity as (1) drug dealers forcing ultimately (spiritually) harmful drugs on (2) their victims who, through inevitable addiction, lose the free-will to choose. (Obviously, you can choose only not to take drugs.) The fundamental contradiction here is that choice includes only one option...and the act of legislating and enforcing that single option is the ultimate denial of an individual's free will and any moral satisfaction he might have gained from deciding for himself not to take drugs. The establishment justifies this travesty of reason by the myth of Addiction. In fact, 1) any "addiction" caused by illicit drugs is often far more benign physiologically than nicotine, alcohol, or tranquilizers--and if one actually compares the addiction (recidivism) of heroin vs. nicotine, one finds that nicotine is more "invitingly abusable"; 2) this "addiction" is almost entirely social and habitual in practice, analogous to compulsively devouring a bag of potato chips, falling in love, or "going out with the guys"; 3) "addiction" affects only a small minority of users, usually placed at 10%, who possess a propensity for addiction, i.e., they will become "addicted" to anything they can - eating, love affairs, gothic romances.1,3 This last observation is important because of the hypocritical belief reserved for drugs that "if some harm themselves by some drugs, then all drugs should be outlawed for all people." This underlies most anecdotal arguments against drugs. If this were truly the concern than we would see the outlawing of food, water, and air because someone somewhere always manages to "abuse" these. More commonly abused items are guns, cars, almost all medications (especially aspirin) -and the legal drugs- and even these demonstrably dangerous things are legal.
A major misperception about Drugs results from a mental "compartmentalization". The majority refuse to accept "drug behavior" as only a part of the overall spectrum of human behaviors that individuals can choose from. No fundamental difference exists between a businessman, a seller of desired goods who attempts to maximize his profits by convincing the buyer to exchange perceived value for value, and the "drug dealer", nor between a consumer, who chooses what he wishes to exchange, and the "drug victim". Most "drug problems" originate in the havoc created when the government interferes with this commercial interaction (the exchange of goods or services between agreeable parties.) For example, if you can imagine the "problems" that would result if the government outlawed fatness, you have nearly understood the "drug problem". The criminalization of fatness is a nearly perfect analogy: fatness causes more harm than most drugs to the individual, huge health care costs, wasted resources; an underground market in food would result; "anti-social tendencies" (to eat in private) would develop; people would exhibit "food addiction" --eating food "feels so good" that people "obviously lose their free will to avoid it" and spend a large part of their money for it; they would hesitate to seek help because they were now "criminals"; AND people would be hurt or killed by impure black market food. Because a drug is criminalized it becomes a black market product and then impossible for the buyer to gain social or legal protection from impure drugs and unscrupulous sellers. Criminalization is the cause of all unintentional drug overdoses.
Proven over and over again, particular chains of causality inevitably follow criminalization, as demonstrated by this scenario: If fatness were outlawed (and what ever other "necessary" legislation passed to enforce it), the typical black market would develop; crime would increase as the persons who chose to provide black market food would steal it because now providing illicit food would be so profitable (the "crime tax" occurs when the amount of goods willing to be supplied falls below the demand for them- prices rise to offset the supplier's perceived risk); equivalently, the providers, as people who choose to do something illegal, would be more likely to disrespect all law ("criminal types") and the overall criminal activity would increase because their overall activities would be made more profitable by criminalized food. Their illicit business would economically expand and organize... the establishment would then label them as "proliferating organized crime" to justify greater and greater police enforcement expenditures... the risk of providing illicit food would increase and the food dealers would demand (and receive) greater profit for their food... with greater profit, their criminal business activities would have incentive to expand. And so on and on.
Two arguments are often used for the false conclusion that the laws result in less total harm. One goes, "Since the rest of society must care for the crippled drug taker, it has the 'right' to stop them." The other: "If fewer take illicit drugs than they would have, then all drug laws are worth it." Both ignore the enormous cost due to the laws themselves. Both grossly exaggerate the harm of most illicit drugs. The inevitable substitution for vastly more harmful licit drugs is conveniently ignored. While the first argument is not applied to nicotine and alcohol, which together cost 'society' about $100 billion a year, it is yet a fundamentally false dilemma; a coerced (and deceptive) public beneficence does not give the state a "right" to coerce further. In fact, the laws and social attitudes have vastly increased the total harm, as I have been constantly demonstrating, with hardly any consequent "aid" from the state. Historically and across many cultures, independent of drug availability, prevalence of use is often proportional to its prohibition. Contrary to the textbook simplicity of supply and demand, many possible reasons for this actual behavior are: a "forbidden fruit principle"; a socially accepted excuse for failure or rebellion; a vastly enhanced profit-motive (from the "crime tax") giving increased supply pressure; a notoriety giving awareness of alternatives; etc. An example of an apparently oppositely sloping demand curve might be cocaine; many, many times more people take it now --just because it is so expensive and seems so classy and risque'- than when it was cheap and available in drug stores (before 1900-1914). It is no coincidence that the two most authoritarian drug policies in the world result in the two worst "drug problems" (hint: USA & USSR). Finally, the simple, ignored truth is that 1) no matter what the law, illicit drugs will be, and are now, easily available to all but the most sheltered, and 2) most are going to take some drug; the effect of the current policy then is to force these people to take more harmful drugs, whether these are just the legal drugs or from ignorance about better alternatives.
Ultimate MotivationsMost of the familiar arguments have now been dealt with. If all these arguments are so poor and demonstrably false, why do we have the current system? Those responsible really do not care what the truth is; "morality" is simply a convenient sheepskin to cloth the horrid injustice they commit against fellow men: to rationalize their coercion of the particular behaviors they desire. Originally, they may have feared that the drug upset the conformist mindset - threatening the status quo and thus the benefits of their socioeconomic position. This was really only a scare tactic. Idealistically, a sufficient and satisfying reason for drug-taking might have been the tremendous possibilities of drug-induced comfort or awareness, far out-weighing the exaggerated costs. But then, many "nice" ideals are unattained in our society --such as democracy, the prevalence of rationality, the utility of government, the goodness of men...
An even more foul motivation adequately accounts for the structure and policies of our current establishment. Frankly, the government is a swarm of liars and thieves interested only in themselves. It is a self-perpetuating ruling class of lawyers and bureaucrats who spend all their time seizing more power, more money, and more resources from the people. The more laws they pass, the more guilt they can extract from the innocent, the greater claim they have to oppress and to steal. It follows that the oppressive drug laws are only a single symptom of the pervasive corruption. Not just drug laws, but all victimless "crime" laws, licenses, regulations, prohibitions, the tax structure, and much more infringe upon, often obliterate, the people's freedom. Of course the ruling class will perpetuate this system of laws because they care far less about the injustice itself than the power and wealth they gain as a result. Their modi operandi include (1) intrinsic police and official corruption (this means: direct bribes, "protection" money, favors, free drugs or "services"); (2) the expansion of the police state and tactics normally considered unconstitutional to enforce these laws; (3) the people's acquiescence about the state's utility (the necessity for state intervention to prevent "proliferating crime"); (4) the continual theft (taxes, tariffs, fees) of the innocent majority's wealth and any additional arbitrary sum from the convicted "criminal" (the fine, settlement, confiscation); (5) and the actual involvement of a few public officials (e.g.., the known involvement of the CIA in international drug trafficking,9 or the legalization of state or city operated gambling) in the illegal activities that are most profitable by reason of their criminalization. Whenever the government passes a law affecting commercial interactions, some will profit and some will be hurt. Almost invariably, the consumer is hurt and the seller profits --and eventually so does the government. (This is why they pass these laws!) This economic principle applies equally for everything from the postal service and taxicab monopolies to illicit drugs.
ConsequencesEven more profound repercussions from the drug laws should convince most Americans, that the present system does not maximize their own benefit. First, violations of the constitution can and will extend beyond those "immoral" crimes --to everyone! Particular examples are the coercion of "vulnerable" informants to incriminate themselves and others, and in the process increasing the likelihood of duress, perjury, and the incrimination of innocents; the situation likewise, where any anonymous person can "tip" the authorities; the use of enormous sums of money to bribe informants and "induce" witnesses; the "exceptions" to civil rights "in the case of" drugs and other unconstitutional attainder procedures; the codified violation of "life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness"; the fundamentally religious persecution of behaviors that do not fit into the narrow spectrum of current Dogma; the harassment of defense lawyers and violations of lawyer-client confidentiality (violating the 6th amendment); and the necessarily selective enforcement of these laws.
Expansion of the police state and its power to enforce victimless "crime" laws will surely be (and of course, have been) abused beyond its original intent. By the very consensual nature of these activities, no victims demand state retribution and at no point does a necessity arise for state interference. A fundamental distinction exists between some acts (e.g.., murder) that everyone agrees is criminal and other acts (e.g.., drug use) that necessitate subterfuge and deceit, violation of the social contract, by the authorities in order to enforce. When someone is "entrapped" a policeman must falsely represent himself and lie to arrive at a mutual agreement with the person who will then be arrested! Other acquired police powers are mail and electronic surveillance, search and seizure (including customs), invasive chemical testing, informers and spies, arbitrary enforcement, regulation and political use of business. More and more public resources are required for expanded enforcement agencies.
Everyone suffers from the mounting totalitarian intrusion into their lives; government is acquiring an ever greater cloak of legitimacy for its intolerance of non-conformist behaviors. A basic economic observation is that the total size of the "pie" decreases with a coerced redistribution of its slices - the average slice will be smaller. Rampant taxation and regulation harm productive incentive because they steal people's rewards for working. Why should this concern only "legal" transactions? The results are the same for all situations in which people choose for themselves what they want to do with their own bodies and property. Why, oh why, is this coercion of another's decisions or disruption of his choice any more benign than a totalitarian socialism?! This is not even limited to the arbitrary division of "economics"! As the state grabs ever more power, so will the pie of freedom shrink - and everyone's slice will be smaller. An entrenched ruling class decreases the pie of truth; coerced conformism destroys slices of alternate beliefs, and eventually, decreases the possibility of finding the best solutions, the most enlightening ideas, the correct explanations... or the truth...
A Cost/Benefit AnalysisWe can be pragmatic: think of how much we could decrease the deficit by legalizing drugs and taxing even a small fraction of the financial transactions involved; some estimate revenues at $20 billion and probably far more, for that is only a sales tax on an estimated underground market!10 Aboveground, the increased income from new markets would be huge. Then there's increased productivity, not only from drugs but from the greater incentive of freedom. The greatest savings though will come from ending the huge costs of the current policy. No drug law enforcement costs! The ABA estimates that 50% of a cop's time is spent enforcing victimless crimes. About $1 billion is specifically allocated for federal and state enforcement and this does not include routine customs, police, and judicial costs. About half of the federal court docket is now drug cases. Now guess how many innocent people could be released from prison and saved imprisonment costs (at $20,000 per annum a shot). Now imagine taking away one of the greatest sources of revenue for organized crime, here but especially overseas (talk about a trade deficit!), and the power they have been able to wield as a result. If drugs were legal we would see the "crime tax" disappear, less money for organized crime (eventually nothing because it would no longer be profitable to them) and more money for other consumer items (this is called "economic health"). Another aspect is that opiate addicts would no longer be forced to steal to pay the "crime tax"; as in England their habit would cost pennies a day. The level of crime would also fall as police resources were freed.
We are finally brought to the last, most important change possible; that legalized drugs would provide alternatives to alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. This concerns what must be one of the most heinous dogmas perpetuated by the establishment. Alcohol and nicotine are two of the most harmful drugs known, with caffeine only a little less so. And yet the good American is forced to choose them! Alcohol is estimated to cost $60 billion a year in lost productivity, property damage, and medical care. It is the third leading factor in national deaths; a third of convicted felons admit to having used alcohol prior to or during their crime, and it is involved in about half of all violent crimes; the majority of highway deaths are due to alcohol; it is the third leading cause of birth defects and the second leading cause of adult-onset mental deterioration. I realize the ruling class needs something to subdue the ruled class with, but this is ridiculous! Nicotine is more insidious, but also very deadly. Tobacco smoking is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease, birth defects, cancer, and other lung diseases; one sixth of Americans will die prematurely because of tobacco smoking --300,000 annually. And the government subsidizes tobacco growers! Total cost of nicotine is estimated at about $30 billion every year.11
The usual thoughtless reaction to these facts is "Yup, we should prohibit those, too." You tried already and all those horrible "illicit drug problems" appeared for alcohol, too: organized crime flourished, even worse alcohol abuse, corrupted officials, lost revenue and huge enforcement expenditures, death and injury from excessive or impure ethanol. Except for a minority of American Puritans who have forced their arbitrary narrow behavioral program on the rest of us, most Americans are going to take some psychoactive drug. If marijuana were legalized everyone would have an immeasurably superior alternative to the legal stimulants and depressants. Marijuana does not cause aggressive behavior or recklessness, has never been known to lead to death or even a shortened life-span, is not addictive, and would be very cheap without the "crime tax".3 Although a few government paid scientists would disagree, no good scientific evidence exists for harm from its use.12 A typical example of an establishment cover-up (i.e., medical, "this is how much they care about your health") is that lung damage from smoking marijuana, as also from cigarette smoking, is a consequence of smoking an organic substance- tree leaves are just as dangerous! Any number of solutions would nullify these dangers -- but you won't hear it from them! Yet, even better alternatives exist. Most don't realize that the "perfect drug" (for them) has probably already been discovered by chemists; many psychoactive chemicals are known that are far superior to the common illicit drugs. They have virtually no undesirable side effects while providing a wide variety of mental experiences. Again, anti-drug dogma prevents a rational resolution of this "drug problem".
ConclusionAfter all rational arguments on drugs: the absurdly large cost/benefit ratio of anti-drug policies, the contradictory, false morality that "justifies" our repressive laws, and the corruption and deceit of the establishment, an even more serious impediment to decriminalization remains. "Yea, sure, fine." "Yea, those arguments may be right, but are not convincing". After all, "we can believe anything we want." But not if it means coercing another's beliefs and behavior! "Sure, those moral feelings might be arguable, but I still feel as if drugs are bad." I urge you, if you have any respect for truth, to go to the literature, to corroborate me, and to immerse yourself in the informed understanding of hundreds of scholars, scientists, and philosophers who feel quite differently. Most Americans trust the "official party line" which is only a mass of self-serving propaganda, rationalizations, and misrepresentations. May I recommend E. Brecher with the Consumer Union13, the biochemist R. Julien, the legal scholar D. Richards, and the psychiatrist A. Grinspoon as only the beginning of any understanding of the problem. A wider sociological perspective can be found by W. Emboden. I promise you that your feelings will change.
"Fine", you say, and turn the page... You've already won, your morality is codified and daily enforced by the powers that be. Or, you can forget the problem, rest your conscience, continue with your daily agreeable lives ...but, the laws are still there. At any time, the police can choose to arrest someone and disrupt his personal life, or blackmail him with "his" crime. The worst result of this is the possibility of selective enforcement. With so many "criminals" and the sheer impossibility of absolute enforcement, the police have unrestrained power over who to punish (by caprice or more likely, socioeconomic, political, religious, racial reasons). Ayn Rand said, "The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals...when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws...just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed, nor enforced, nor objectively interpreted--and you create a nation of lawbreakers--then you cash in on guilt." (Atlas Shrugged)
Ask yourself what could change your mind about drugs! If nothing could, neither facts nor rational argument, you possess dogmatism --a "certainty" just as certainly wrong.
What if?If ever this barrier of irrationality, corrupt interests, ignorance, and apathy were overcome, my conception of the ideal way society should handle drugs would take this form: 1) absolute decriminalization 2) discourage sale to minors (through education about actual dangers, not moralizing propaganda) 3) a sales tax 4) consumer education (because the system has upto now allowed only hearsay and propaganda) 5) legislated responsibility for drug advertising and product negligence 6) purity standards for manufacturers 7) no government interference in the operation of drug abuse clinics 8) AND as a consequence of these changes, research and development of far more safe and desirable drugs.
References:1) D.A.J. Richards, Sex, Drugs, Death, and the Law-an essay on human rights and over-criminalization, Rowman & Littlefield, Totown, N.J.,1982.
2) (Compare approx. 6000 drownings/yr. with even the exaggerated 600 "illicit drug related" deaths claimed by the DEA) Statistical Abstract of US, 1985, US Dept of Commerce.
3) Robert M. Julien, A Primer of Drug Action, 3rd ed., W.H.Freeman & Co., San Fransisco, 1981.
4) Amphetamine: 4th Report, NIDA, 1972.
5) Ralph C. Greene, M.D., Medical Overkill, George F. Stickley Co., Philadelphia, PA, 1983. and P.F.D'Arcy & J.P.Griffin, Iatrogenic Diseases, 2nd ed., Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford,1979.
6) William Emboden, Narcotic Plants, rev., Macmillan, N.Y.,1979.
7) V. Rubin & C. Lambros, Gange in Jamaica, Humanities Press, Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1975.
8) L. Grinspoon & J. Bakalar, Cocaine: A Drug and Its Social Evolution, rev., Basic Books, N.Y., 1985. (also see Grinspoon's numerous other books)
9) Alfred McCoy, Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, Harper & Row, N.Y., 1973.
10) figure represents federal estimate of "available taxes on illicit drugs".
11) ibid 3) pg.208
12) ibid 3) ch.9 and especially pg 182-3. also: NIDA, "Marijuana Research Findings: 1980", Research Monograph Series, no.31.
13) E.M.Brecher and Consumer Reports editors, Licit and Illicit Drugs, Consumers Union, Mt Vernon, N.Y., 1972.