I am no fan of drugs. Of any kind. I have seen too many lives ruined, or at least terribly disrupted in the ugliest sort of way, by alcohol to think very highly of that one, just as one example. However, I am not now, nor have I ever been, in favor of its abolition. I don’t think that tobacco ought to be outlawed, either, as much has I abhor the damages it causes in countless people (and as much as I can’t stand the smell of it!). But, let’s face it, these are the easy ones I’m talking about here. Virtually no one today wants to see governments take these drugs on, and they are definitely drugs, no question about it.
But what about the big guys, or at least the bigger guys? It’s clear that the US Federal government is not ready, at least not for now anyway, to consider any approach other than the so-called War on Drugs. And that, in spite of the fact that this is widely acknowledged to be a failed and even a destructive model.
Let’s take marijuana, just as an example of what is often referred to (incorrectly, in my view) as a “gateway drug.” Does anyone really even believe that anymore? Here in California, medical marijuana has been legal for several years, and if anyone thinks that many, possibly even most, people use it for glaucoma or to control pain, then they’re probably ready to buy a certain famous bridge, too, that spans the bay between San Francisco and Marin and which just celebrated its 75th birthday. I have several friends who smoke marijuana, either on a fairly regular, or at least on an occasional, basis, and have done so for many years, and from anything I can tell they are not the worse for it. Nor do I expect that they will “graduate” to cocaine or methamphetamines any time soon, or any other higher echelon drug. That does not mean that some other person, let’s say an unstable and impressionable teenager, might not follow such a path. But this would surely be possible whether marijuana were legal or not. And no one, so far as I know, even the most pro-marijuana advocate, seems to be suggesting a carte blanche usage for all ages of potential consumers. Just as no sane person does so in regard to alcohol or tobacco.
It seems to me that the criminalization of drugs has caused far more harm than any good it may ever have done. This is true not only in terms of the consumers of the drugs themselves, but equally, or even more so perhaps, for those communities, and whole countries, that have gotten in the way of ever increasingly violent drug cartels and other deliverers of the products in question. This is why the leaders of several countries of both Central and South America approached President Obama at the most recent meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS). They dared to suggest to an American president that drugs ought to be either fully, or at least partially, legalized. This in itself was something amazing, but US reporters in attendance thought it more relevant to concentrate on the sleazy story of Secret Service men cavorting with Columbian prostitutes. Yes, indeed, what a shock, that men in law enforcement might be interested in paid sex, outside the bonds of holy matrimony! To my mind, this is on about the same level as a “dog bites man” kind of story. But it kept us occupied for several days, and drowned out the more interesting and far more relevant story about Latin American leaders finally standing up to a sitting US head of state. I won’t say that it didn’t occur to me that some at least in the Obama Administration may have been secretly and very privately delighted that a few of these Secret Service guys let their libidos run amok. I’m not suggesting, mind you, that it was planned out in any conscious way, but surely no good could come from American voters hearing too much about talk of legalization of drugs at a conference attended by the president in the months leading up to what will definitely be a close-fought election.
So, is full legalization of drugs of all kinds the answer? I have to admit that I’m enough of a worrier to say that I’m not sure. I just don’t know. I very much doubt if anyone really knows. And if not complete legalization, then what kind of legalization, if any? What I can say for sure at least is that I see no purpose whatsoever in the continued criminalization of marijuana. Naturally, the same, or similar, restrictions would have to be fully in place regarding age limitations and prohibition while driving as currently apply to alcohol. Neither am I naïve enough to believe that no harm could ever come from such legalization, just as is the case with both alcohol and tobacco. But, in my view, the potential benefits for the many far outweigh any possible harm that might arise for the few. Here are just a few such benefits: 1) a major disruption to drug cartel violence and the enormous amounts of money that drive that violence; 2) creation of a tax windfall to governments at all levels at a time when any new infusion of revenues is desperately needed; 3) the ending of the arrest and incarceration of countless numbers of people, mostly young ones, for possession and use, in reality a so-called crime of no greater consequence than that of having a martini before dinner. These are but three of the benefits that would come from the decriminalization of marijuana, and many others could no doubt be added to the growing list.
So, why not just try this one thing, if people (including myself, frankly) are skittish about a wider and more precipitous legalization of all drugs? And even though most experts agree that there is little doubt drug addiction is mainly a public health problem, and it becomes a criminal problem only because we make it one. At very least it ought to be clear that the War on Marijuana has not worked and that it is both destructive and counter-productive. So, if we cannot immediately declare a full truce and cessation of hostilities on ALL drugs, let us be smart enough to assert for all to hear that at least this one battle is no longer worth fighting.