Friday, December 5, 2008

A Day To Examine Drug Prohibition

Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the 21st Amendment which repealed the 18th Amendment regarding the prohibition of alcohol, the Wall Street Journal has an excellent Op-ed by Ethan A. Nadelmann examining the folly of the present day War on Drugs.

Some opponents of prohibition pointed to Al Capone and increasing crime, violence and corruption. Others were troubled by the labeling of tens of millions of Americans as criminals, overflowing prisons, and the consequent broadening of disrespect for the law. Americans were disquieted by dangerous expansions of federal police powers, encroachments on individual liberties, increasing government expenditure devoted to enforcing the prohibition laws, and the billions in forgone tax revenues. And still others were disturbed by the specter of so many citizens blinded, paralyzed and killed by poisonous moonshine and industrial alcohol.


Consider the consequences of drug prohibition today: 500,000 people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails for nonviolent drug-law violations; 1.8 million drug arrests last year; tens of billions of taxpayer dollars expended annually to fund a drug war that 76% of Americans say has failed; millions now marked for life as former drug felons; many thousands dying each year from drug overdoses that have more to do with prohibitionist policies than the drugs themselves, and tens of thousands more needlessly infected with AIDS and Hepatitis C because those same policies undermine and block responsible public-health policies.

It is completely crazy that this continues. Marijuana should be legalized right away. It's not an attractive habit, and I mostly can't stand thin-skinned pot-heads, but really, it's their choice. Talk about people who don't harm others. Let them go listen to their Grateful Dead albums in peace. (They can be tiresome bores, but it's my right not to associate with them.) The fact that people can get criminal records for this or jailed is criminal in itself.

I'm from Ottawa. From the time you have your driver's license, you can take a 15 minute drive over the Quebec border and buy beer there. Technically the drinking age was 18, but nobody seemed to care, they never asked for ID. I grew up in a beer culture. I found out later in my early 20's, when I'd visit down to the US, that Americans as a whole were big dope smokers. Pot was their choice for parties. The simple fact was that it was easier to get dope than alcohol. 48 out of 50 states have a 21 drinking age that is rigorously enforced. It's a hell of a lot easier to walk down the street to your local dealer. One time in New Orleans, we were at a college house party and my friend and I were panicking over our low beer count. We were trying to organize a beer run. The Americans at the party were saying "relax, look at the bag of weed we have on the table, it will more than last all night." We were stunned. A party is over is the beer runs out where I come from. It just goes to show that pot is as mainstream to them as beer is to your typical Canadian hosers.

Legalization of hard drugs is more difficult to debate. Heroin and Crystal Meth ruin people. And those people become a menace and nuisance to society as whole. This plays out in Vancouver every day. Our property crime is one of the worst in North America because junkies need to feed their habit but can't hold down a job. I've personally witnessed people shooting up in broad daylight, even in the financial district. The Crystal Meth people go into psychotic rages, which is dangerous for the public but also for police and medical staff.

It's difficult to just turn around and legalize it. It feels like you are condoning its use. But whether we like it or not, it's easily and readily available on the street. It's a better idea if we can get it out in the open. We can use the tax money for treatment, and put the dealers out of business.

I've met a few people in my time who did recreational coke, and still held down jobs and were productive citizens. One time I was out with some people having after work drinks. A guy brought his friend along who was visiting Vancouver. We were on this very topic and I said, 'why shouldn't coke be legalized'? The visiting friend got very upset. He told me he had almost ruined his life doing "speedballs" which was some kind of cocaine mixture. He blew his and his wife's savings, almost lost his job, marriage crumbling, health affected, etc. He said we can't legalize it, it's too dangerous. We have to keep people away from it. But the point is, it was illegal when he was doing this and he got his hands on it anyway. Prohibition did nothing, and in fact probably made it easier for him to get these drugs.

So we really need to re-think this whole thing. Canada has become much more liberal about it, but the US remains steadfast in its folly.

1 comment:

  1. love to see this discussion! It’s great to see you all working through the issues and also, it’s great to see recommendations for testing. In the end, it’s what your actual users do and prefer that should be your biggest driver in making these decisions.

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