Savage Thoughts -- The Drug Problem

By Leo Savage

Everybody says we have a drug problem in this country. I suppose we do. On the one hand we have a lot of people destroying their lives doing hard drugs, and on the other hand we have an inordinate amount of drug-related crime. So what can we do about it?

First of all, let me make a distinction between hard drugs like cocaine, crack, and heroin and marijuana, which is a separate issue in my opinion. Right now I'm only talking about the hard drugs.

Whatever we do about the drug problem, one thing is for certain, they should not be illegal. Or at least, not the way they are now. Read the rest of this essay before you go totally off the deep end.

First of all, there's a basic question of human rights. If someone decides that they want to pour a lot of drugs into their bloodstream, trading most of their life for a few minutes of whatever it is they get out of it (I don't know and I have no intention of ever finding out), who are we to tell them otherwise? Heck, maybe they're right. Maybe it is a good tradeoff for them. And even if it isn't, doesn't freedom imply the ability to be a damn fool?

Forget that, though. There is no point in pursuing that train of thought. If we could, in our collective wisdom, decide that such a thing is "bad" and should not happen, and then wave a magic wand and make it all go away, then there would be some point in discussing whether or not people should be able to do it. But we don't have a magic wand. In theory we do -- we can pass laws against it and make it go away, but the magic wand is broken in this case.

Just in case anyone missed the historic lesson of our forefathers, prohibition does not work. It didn't work with alcohol and it isn't working with drugs. The truth of this is by now so incredibly obvious I can't imagine I need to belabor the issue. Apparently I do, though, based on a message I got from one of our boys in blue. My rebuttal is rather lengthy, so it's a separate document.

So what does work? Historically, what works is education. Laws can only work to cut down abuses (as in the recent largely successful campaign against drunk driving), and even then it has to be coupled with education. No, I don't mean schools particularly. Well, that too, but also public service announcements, people talking publicly about the bad effects, things like that. Education in the broader sense.

Look at what happened with heroin. Heroin usage is way down from what it used to be (though it fluctuates some). The reason why is because most people learned enough about it to be scared to ever try it. We have a lot less heroin junkies than we used to, and the Thai government is a lot more stable now that the Maio tribes upcountry no longer wield such enourmous economic clout from growing poppies.

For that matter, look at what happened with cocaine. Many people used to think it was a harmless recreational drug. Now people have learned that it's addictive, and almost everybody knows somebody who blew it all in a big way to support a habit. This is where the crack problem came from. As the more affluent people learned to avoid cocaine the market for a high quality, high profit drug declined sharply. The cocaine cartels were faced with collapsing markets and shrinking funds, and were looking for an alternative. They found it at the other end of the scale, in a low quality, low cost form of cocaine that could be sold cheaply.

Again, the real answer is education. Making drugs illegal simply results in a massive underground economy with related crime. Drug traffickers have to handle their own enforcement because they cannot use police and the courts, so rival gangs fight over territory in order to control the drug trade in their area.

I propose that hard drugs be made legal but restricted. Few people realize that there is a drug classification between over-the-counter nostrums like Nyquil and prescription drugs like tetracycline. There is a middle category for things like elixer of codein and turpin hydrate (a really excellent cough medicine if you can find it). You can buy it in a drug store without a prescription, but you have to be an adult and you have to sign for it.

This would kick the economic foundation right out from under an entire criminal class. As an added bonus, it would generate accurate records of exactly who the addicts are, so that they can be targeted for treatment programs and further education. It should also help stabilize the government of Columbia, which so far has been reduced to a state similar to an army camp under seige by the drug cartel (not generally considered a nice way to treat a friendly government).

It would also greatly alleviate the prison problem, since a large percentage (I have heard that it is a majority) of prison inmates are there for drug-related crimes.

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