Drug abuse prevention has failed miserably. Our attempts to stop the cultivation of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin are like trying to stop the occurrence of ants — impossible and improbable. The anti-drug abuse campaigns around the world have led only to the increased spread of drugs and their increased cultivation. In Afghanistan more land is being used to grow heroin now than ever before and the scourge of its use has spread into Russia big time. Our preoccupation with stamping out the Taliban has allowed the greater threat of uncontrolled illegal drug usage to spread because we do not wish to alienate the poppy-growing farmers from our side. In Mexico our benighted effort to stop the flow of drugs and illegal aliens across our border to the south has almost destabilized a whole nation. Juarez and Tijuana have become war zones as drug lords battle the federal troops for control of the drug flow northward. The toll becomes greater and more savage with each passing month. Coca plants are still being grown in abundance in South America. When the heat of government crackdown comes in one country, cultivation moves to another country. In own country, marijuana is cultivated everywhere. The national forests are farms. City houses are hydroponics labs. All for the cultivation of a crop that, I am told, is more valuable than wheat.
What has all this “prevention” done? It has built an infrastructure of penalty, starting with the police, the federal narcotics agencies, and the border patrol. This infrastructure continues through the court system with prosecutors and judges, to the prison system with its guards and administrators. A huge and expensive system depends on keeping drugs illegal, and in its grasp are hundreds of thousands prisoners. America has more people in jail than any other Western nation, and most of these people are incarcerated on drug offenses. There are men and women in prison for ten to twenty years for smoking a joint and having weed in their possession. The situation is surreal and ridiculous.
It is time America wakes up and rethink a system that is un-winnable, dehumanizing, and ineffective. The war on drugs is un-winnable. The government is not going to stamp out supply as long as there is demand. This is a basic lesson of capitalism, which we, the great proponents of capitalism, forget. Demand is not going to go away. A fundamental aspect of human nature for some people is to seek an altered state of mind . Thus we have alcohol and alcoholism. In the 1920s we tried to stamp out alcohol use through prohibition, and what did we get? We got gangterism, mobs, and wild profit. What we have today is our modern-day version of prohibition is gangterism, mobs, and wild profit. Where there is a way to supply demand it will be found and has been found, as can be testified to in the USA, Mexico, South America, Europe, Russia, and Afghanistan.
The present situation is dehumanizing. Imprisoning upwards of half a million people on drug-related offenses is cruel and inhumane. Most of these people are in jail for possession and use, not for sale and distribution. Our society has penalized the users more heavily than the perpetrators. Often these users are the mentally ill . We have simply swept under the table a problem with which we are uncomfortable. The problem is purposeless people either sidelined through lack of education, intelligence, upbringing, poverty, or mental condition. We let them languish in jail. We storehouse society’s problems in great barbed wire-enclosed gulags. Los Angeles’ county jail is the largest mental hospital in America.
Most of all our approach to the problem of drug abuse is ineffective. The abuse of drugs has not slowed or lessened, but has grown and worsened. We may have changed to some limited degree the kind of drug abuse – crack addiction is down, while methamphetamine rises, straight cocaine use reappears, but heroin addiction declines. Marijuana smoking continues a steady rise and the plant continues a steady increase in potency. The criminal activity around drug sales persists. Gang violence in our cities has not gone away. The prisons remain the major training ground for recruits to the world of drug mobs. We have set up the perfect system to perpetuate the drug culture by making armies of persons with no hope of employment in anything other than a criminal activity. We have made that criminal activity so lucrative that a person would be foolish not to follow in the path for which he has been so well trained.
The addict has choices but is limited by resources and is far less well funded than the penalty system. Money for police, prosecution, and imprisonment far outweighs money available for rehabilitation, treatment, and prevention. Rehabilitation centers are generally small and located in less than desirable neighborhoods because nice communities don’t want them close at hand. Treatment is underfunded and limited to programs like the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which are inexpensive to operate and only successful in one third of the cases handled. Prevention in terms of anti-drug promotion as a health issue is hardly done at all. This is not like the anti-smoking campaign which focuses on the cancer-causing effects of the habit. Drug abuse prevention focuses on absolute prohibition, which does little or no good in talking about the health issues.
The problem of drug abuse has been attacked from the wrong end. Drug abuse is a health issue. It should be treated as such and funded as such. Where should that funding come from? The drug industry itself. Legalizing and taxing drugs appropriately would do four major things. One: it would allow the market to operate on the supply and demand for these mind altering chemicals, just as it does for alcohol. Two: It would remove gangsterism from the equation of its distribution. Three: it would dismantle the infrastructure of penalization. Four: the money used from heavy taxation of drugs appropriate to the severity of their negative effects would fund the health system needed to combat its usage.
To allow the free market to operate on drugs within a system of taxation would take the United States out of the eradication business. We would stop trying to keep Afghanistan’s farmers from growing poppies. We would stop trying to rid Columbia of its coca leaf plantations. Marijuana could be farmed in the United States legally. What might happen with this scenario? There would be a glut of drugs at first. Prices would drop drastically.
Taxation would have to be set low initially and rise gradually over the years to encourage legitimate suppliers to bring cocaine into the country at recognized ports and sold at recognized quality. Illegal supply would still have be pursued by authorities for capture. Street drugs would be discouraged through publicity campaigns demeaning and demonstrating the low quality of the product. Domestic production of legal marijuana would be treated similarly with quality standards established just like for scotch whiskey and wine. Illegal distribution would be discouraged with fines, and other civil penalties, as in the case with moonshine.
Without the veil of illegality gangsterism should fade. Legitimate corporations, sensing that profit can be made in the sale and promotion of legal drug sales, will get into the business. That does not mean that some gangsters will not become legitimate businesses, they probably will, but the violence seen over the sale and distribution of the product should go away. Where would the drugs be distributed? The drug store, I believe. One would go to a Walgreen’s, a Sav-On, or a CVS. and purchase a pack of sensemilla #3 Red Dragon cigarettes for $50.00 a packet, or a loaded crack pipe for $10.00 with 5 refills at $5.00 each – we are assuming here that the glut of supply has vastly reduced price on this street commodity, or a clean and loaded heroin needle in a paper wrapping for $25.00. Needles might have a $2 dollar return value. Four lines of cocaine in small re-sealable plastic vial might cost you $100.00 for the very best stuff in the designer label. The house brand could save you 20 bucks. All of these products would come with a black box label telling you the side effects of the drug: impaired judgment, blurred vision, heart palpitations, even death, etc, etc.
The need for the great bureaucracy of penalty should wane. Fewer police will be needed to patrol against the sale and distribution of narcotics. Fewer prosecutors and judges will be needed to put the offenders in jail, since there will no longer be offenders. Most beneficial of all fewer prisons, prison guards, and prison administrators will be needed to incarcerate the guilty. This should thin out the prison population in America immensely, reducing the demand for more expensive prison facilities, and freeing money for other infrastructure. Infrastructure like roads and bridges which induce value in the society can be concentrated on, rather than human warehouse facilities which add no value to the society at large.
The funds garnered from taxation of narcotics and saved from expenditure by not prosecuting drug offenses can now be spent were it ought to be spent — in treatment and prevention of the health problem. Major funding could be provided to research laboratories to understand the nature of chemical addiction and to find the chemical means to fight it. Major funding could be provided to treatment programs both traditional and experimental in fighting the drug problem. Understanding the nature of drug addiction and other health issues such as mental illness could be given proper priority. Campaigns, just like the anti-smoking campaigns, which focus on the dangers of cigarette smoke and the links to other diseases, can be created in a rational atmosphere, where the emphasis is not on jail and reputation destruction, but on the damage to brain, heart, lungs, liver, and other organs.
The discussion about narcotic drugs needs to become rationalized and removed from hysteria. Narcotic drugs need not be seen as a criminal overrun of society. It is actually an ordinary problem we have allowed the media and the bureaucracy of penalty to spread a cloak of fear and insecurity, when level-headed thinking and calm assessment of what makes for sense is required. A legal drug business could revitalize the tobacco industry. A legal drug business would provide a whole new profit center to American pharmaceutical companies. Legalize narcotic drugs now.