This article recently appeared splashed across the front of a section in the Wall Street Journal. To say the least, a bit disappointed that the Journal would publish something this vacuous.
They’re spot on with their initial statements; our war on drugs has been a failure, people are different and require different solutions and, the bulk of the problems to society are caused by a relative few. They suggest 20% of abusers account for 80% of the problems, I think it’s maybe 5% who account for over 90% of the problems.
Otherwise, I’m not sure they did much thinking.
Their attack on drug legalization, like most others, is that if we legalize drugs then use will skyrocket:
Legalizing possession and production would eliminate many of the problems related to drug dealing, but it would certainly worsen the problem of drug abuse…. If these “hard” drugs were sold on more or less the same terms as alcohol, there is every reason to think that free enterprise would work its magic of expanding the customer base, and specifically the number of problem users, producing an alcohol-like toll in disease, accident and crime.
Actually there is no reason to believe this and numerous reasons to not believe it – if you’ve done much research (which these authors either didn’t or did and ignored). No country that has liberalized their drug policy has seen such an increase. Fewer people, teens in particular, smoke pot in Amsterdam than in the U.S., drug use decreased in Portugal and Switzerland after liberalization, and on and on the examples go. Prohibition laws have little or no impact on people’s decisions to abuse drugs, but do drive the industry underground, decrease addicts ability to get help, and significantly increase violence.
People don’t obey laws, they obey their beliefs. What we see as law-abiding is often simply an intersection of people’s beliefs with the law. A change in law will have little impact on people’s beliefs. People who believe that doing drugs is stupid will still believe that doing drugs is stupid regardless of legality just as people who want to do drugs today do so whether legal or not.
Further, these authors’ equating alcohol with abusive drugs in the way they did is actually one of the few examples where alcohol and abusive drugs make a poor equation. Alcohol is socially acceptable, drugs are not. Even in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, and other places that have legalized all or some drugs, drug use continues to be socially unacceptable. This lack of social acceptance plays a major role in reducing use. More significantly, drugs have well known and extremely harmful effects, way beyond any negatives of alcohol, and for most people this is what that keeps them from abusing drugs, not fear of arrest.
I like Judge Larry Long’s 24/7 solution of people showing up twice daily for testing and with test failure meaning immediate short-term incarceration. This is a potentially great solution for people who have a substance addiction, whether drugs or alcohol, that has gotten so out of control that it has caused them to put others at risk (DUI, Assault, etc). We can’t afford this for everyone who simply smokes a joint once a day, does a line of coke once a week, or has a glass of wine with dinner, but for those who cross the line of moderate responsibility, it is likely a very good first step solution.
Today with our drug war we have immense problems with drug abuse. If we legalize drugs we’d still have a lot of problems, though likely somewhat less. Regardless of legality we need to continue to educate people about the short and long-term harmful effects of all drugs, including alcohol, and we will still need programs like Long’s to deal with those who cannot control themselves.
That they even mention an ID requirement after discussing Long’s 24/7 solution is interesting simply because its usefulness is completely obviated by Long’s program. Both are focused on the same group of very heavy drug and alcohol abusers. An ID requirement will provide no benefit not provided by 24/7 testing and, while Long’s program is somewhat difficult to circumvent, an ID requirement is extremely easy to circumvent with fake ID’s, a tip to their bartender or drug dealer, or any number of ways. There is no reason to do something this Orwellian that provides no benefit.
Kennedy’s two programs? Really? They are premised on saying “It’s OK to break the law like this, but not like that.” That’s an extremely damaging message to send to society and an extremely damaging precedent to set. It’s like saying that if you’re going to rape a young girl, just don’t do it in public where it will bother the neighbors, don’t slap or bruise her in the process, and we’ll look the other way.
Just as that would do nothing to reduce rape, Kennedy’s ideas will do nothing to reduce drug abuse nor the bulk of the problems caused by our war on drugs. At best it slightly reduces on-street drug dealing and some of its associated violence for a brief period.
More importantly, we are a nation of laws and our laws need to mean something. If we’re going to say that it’s OK to deal drugs so long as you do it in an appropriate venue and don’t kill people, then let’s avoid the ambiguity and encouragement of law-breaking and make it legal to deal drugs so long as you do it in an appropriate venue and don’t kill people. There is zero benefit to Kennedy’s programs over legalization and a lot of negatives.
Regardless of their merits or lack thereof, these are all after the fact. Long’s program is good, but is dealing with people after they’ve become fairly hard-core addicts, Kennedy’s with people after they’ve become violent drug dealers. Will these do anything to reduce overall drug use, the consequences of that use and it’s commerce, or the consequences of our war on drugs?
Long’s program will help reduce the timeline of addiction. Instead of hard core folks using drugs for nine years, they may now use them for seven. And, it will help to get the abusers who are most dangerous to society off the street. Since the only impact is with longer term hard-core users though we’ll only reduce overall drug use and demand by maybe 5%. We’ll still have the same problems in Mexico and other production countries, along our border with Mexico, and on our city streets. Producing, smuggling, and selling 95 grams of dope will result in just as much crime and just as many murders as 100 grams.
Far worse, we’ll still have the same problem of people breaking laws so routinely that the concept of law-abiding looses it’s meaning.
Long’s program is a good one regardless of legalization. Kennedy’s is harmful regardless of legalization. Neither though do anything to reduce the root harms caused by our war on drugs. The authors propose these as an alternative to either the war or legalization, but these are only a 1% solution. It’s like proposing a thimble of water as an alternative to a fire hose.