Legislation on drugs needs retooling
I will admit as readily as anyone America has a raging drug problem. However, I dissent from popular anti-drug dogma.
I argue the problem is the unconstitutional legislation banning the sale and use of drugs and the overwhelmingly expensive campaign to enforce that legislation internationally. Due to the hypocrisy of our drug laws, the monetary strain of their enforcement and their inherent unconstitutionality, the drug war must end and the drug legislation must be reformed.
Our cultural evaluation of drugs is the epitome of hypocrisy. Even our implementation of the word is awkwardly canted. The denotation of “drugs” is substances that produce physiological effects when introduced into the body. By this, alcohol, caffeine and even over-the-counter pain medications constitute drugs. Yet the connotation is more convoluted. It is implied we are referring to an exclusive subclass of substances.
One who responsibly imbibes alcohol, even on a weekly basis, is not regarded as a “junkie.” Nor is one who requires several cups of coffee to maintain daily productivity or one who frequently uses ibuprofen to manage headaches viewed as an “addict.”
So what makes the distinction between drugs and “drugs”? Contrary to anti-drug rhetoric, the difference is not in safety.
According to a National Center for Health Statistics report, there were 22,073 alcohol-related deaths in 2006. Furthermore, the safety ratio (a numerical description of a drug’s safety, derived by dividing the lethal dose by the typical recreational dose) of alcohol is 10. To put that into perspective, the safety ratio for cannabis is more than 1,000. This means it is more than 100 times safer to smoke cannabis than to drink alcohol. Yet, alcohol is legal and cannabis is not.
Furthermore, according to another published report, prescription painkillers (such as opioids), contributed to 92 percent of the 27,531 deaths due to accidental poisoning in 2006. Granted, these drugs are conditionally classed as “drugs,” but they’re not absolutely illegal despite the mortality rate associated with them. Whereas salvia has, only allegedly, contributed to a single death and has been outlawed in several states (including Michigan).
Besides the hypocrisy of our drug legislation, another factor that ought to urge us to end the drug war is how inexcusably fiscally irresponsible it is. According to the White House, President Obama requested $14.1 billion for “drug” control.
Most concerning is that $100 million of that was requested simply for media campaigning. Those tacky, rhetorically futile “above-the-influence” advertisements you see every day are paid for with our tax dollars — tax dollars that could put textbooks in underfunded schools, that could feed malnourished children, or even rehabilitate people who’ve lost themselves to addiction.
Moreover, even to anyone who believes in the principles of the drug war, the money we are collectively allowing the government to invest in it is seeing no return. The hundreds of billions of dollars we’ve spent on drug control in the last 50 years have done nothing to stem the availability of drugs or their abuse.
Anyone who actively insulates herself or himself from the world that lies outside her or his fantastic existential bubble, might find that a hard statement to believe. However, I personally assure you, it is not difficult to find drugs in America. This is especially true of our campus. Given our proximity to a major metropolitan center like Detroit; cocaine, cannabis, LSD and many other drugs are relatively easily acquired by anyone with the proper connections.
All other arguments aside, I must ask, has the government any right to criminalize drug use? The moral authority of our government is limited to the actions we make that directly affect other people. Drug use directly affects the user and the user alone.
Granted, there are many negative associations people make with drugs. It seems as though one out of every three people is eager to share some tragic personal anecdote poignantly illustrating why drugs are “bad.” In truth, they are not “bad.” They are dangerous.
However, blanket legislation based on that danger is not legally prudent. We ought instead write and enforce laws that insist upon responsibility.
For example, many deaths are indirectly attributable to alcohol through drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, etc. Yet instead of outlawing the substance, we regulate it. We limit its legal consumption by age, assign severe monetary and legal consequences to those who drink and drive, etc.
This is responsible legislation, acknowledging the right of the citizens to indulge in a substance but expecting them to do so responsibly and holding them accountable when they don’t. Why can’t “drug” legislation follow the same reasonable standard? What’s different?
Yet another example of dangerous but legal products is firearms. They are most extraordinarily lethal. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 30,896 gun-related deaths and more than 200,000 gun-related injuries in 2006 alone. However, if you were to propose legislation to ban guns, you’d be cast as a fascist standing between the American people and their Second Amendment rights.
What about our First Amendment rights? If we’ve freedom of speech and of press, do not we inherently maintain freedom of thought? In essence, drugs are substances that permit us to think in ways we would not ordinarily be capable of doing. They are substances that expand our perception of the world around us. By that rationale, don’t we have a right to use them? Oughtn’t we passionately insist upon that right?
In my experience, drugs have enormous potential to positively benefit society. They, when used responsibly, permit us to temporarily disengage from the stress of everyday life and innocently enjoy each ecstatic moment with which we’re blessed. They have the ability to make the world brilliantly fantastic again, to make us feel childishly awed by the universe’s infinite splendor. Moreover, they have the ability to make us more empathetic of one another, to help us see one another as members of a harmonious community instead of as social, sexual, and/or economic competitors.
Most poignantly, they have enormous potential in helping us deal with subconscious emotional tension that we may be oblivious to in our sobriety. Several of my dearest friends have explained to me instances in which drugs have genuinely helped them to acknowledge and address latent suffering in emotionally healthy and productive ways.
Theretofore, they claimed to have a deeper understanding of the factors that were causing their suffering, a more reasoned approach to dealing with those factors, and a more honest and stable perspective of self.
Am I arguing that everyone should do drugs? Of course not. Some people, due to any number of psychological and/or physiological reasons, simply can’t handle the effects and such is for them to realize and accept. All I am saying is the right is not mine, yours, or anyone else’s to limit what sort of relationship any person of adult age is permitted to have with drugs.
Therefore, our continued funding of the disastrous drug war is reprehensible. Our meek adherence to the unconstitutional drug legislation is cowardly.
In short, our basic right to drugs is based on our supreme right to individual thought. If we allow the government to interfere with that, do we have any rights at all?