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Why do we fight the war on drugs?
An essay by Jeff Williams

As an example let us say...
that I am hiking through the woods with a group of friends. Along the way, we pass a marijuana plant growing (just like any other common weed does) along the side of the path. One of my fellow hikers cuts off a few leaves, rolls it into a joint using a piece of notebook paper, lights one end of it and gently inhales the smoke.

Is this man a criminal? And does he deserve to go to jail for this act?

And if so...why?

This is the question which I would like everyone to explore. I am not going to argue over the morality of the use of drugs. That choice must be decided by each individual based on their own personal upbringing. But I do want to discuss why we feel the need to legislate people's behavior and to treat drug users as criminals.

What is the proper role of the government in our personal lives?

Think long and think hard on the following question:
What is the nature of and the need for authority and for governments?

Government and authority is essential and exists to protect the rights and personal liberties of the individual. For this reason, anarchy as a form of government is not practical. Authority is needed to protect the rights of the individual from others who would deny them such rights. We have laws to protect us from and punish those who violate the rights of others. Murder, rape, robbery, arson are all examples of violating the rights of another individual.

But do we need the government making such personal and private decisions about what we can and cannot do with our own bodies? Do we need the government setting a standard of moral and ethical behavior for all to follow? Do we want a government that feels the need and has the power to legislate to us such personal and private individual decisions?

Think of the hundreds of hazardous things that we can do with our bodies.
Can we smoke tobacco products?
Can we eat unhealthy portions of red meat?
Can we go skydiving, ride motorcycles or go rock climbing?
Can we swallow unrecommended doses of aspirin?
Can we use Prozac, Valium, etc.?
Can we drink alcoholic products?
Apparently...yes, we can.

So why not marijuana? Why can society and the government set aside a list of chemicals that we can legally take into our body while at the same time set aside a list of chemicals that we cannot legally take into our body? How can one logically argue in support of the right to smoke tobacco while at the same time propose stiffer penalties for smoking marijuana? How can one logically argue that smoking tobacco is perfectly legal, but that smoking marijuana should result in a jail sentence? Why are there so many politicians that want to curb the powers of the FDA, who at the same time want to increase the power of the DEA?

If somebody chooses to harm or abuse their own bodies, is there really any way to stop them? Do we want the government, or for that matter, another person, to decide what is harmful and what isn't? Do you want to surrender control of your own body to another person? For that is the nature of our government, to be governed over by another person. Do you want a government that protects you from others, or do you want a government that protects you from yourself? Do you want a government that will treat you like a criminal for choosing an action that hurts nobody but yourself? Do you want a government that will treat you like a criminal for choosing a behavior that "society" has deemed unacceptable or unmoral, even if nobody else is involved?

Is it right for the government to treat drug users as criminals?

Even the people who wrote the Harrison Act and the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 agreed that a general prohibition on what people could put into their own bodies was plainly an unconstitutional infringement on personal liberties. There is no fundamental reason why a constitutional amendment should be required to prohibit one chemical and not another.

What balance needs to be made between individuals rights?

One could argue about the dangers of these to other individuals. But I argue: what dangers? There is a big difference between government mandated safety laws that protect the individual from others and that protect the individual from themselves.

So what about government mandated speed limits? Speed limits are not there only for your safety, but the safety of others. To protect other drivers from the risk caused by others driving at unsafe speeds. Drinking alcohol is legal because it poses no threat to anybody except the user. But driving while drunk poses a danger to others. And any violence initiated while drunk also poses a danger to others. If you choose to drink to excess and therefore cause any danger to another individual's rights, then and only then have you have broken the law. And you have not broken the law because you were intoxicated, you broke the law because you violated another individual's rights. Whether or not you were intoxicated is irrelevant. You accept personal responsibility for ALL of your actions, including all actions you take while intoxicated.

We need not worry about airline pilots or bus drivers driving while stoned. The same laws that prevent them from performing their jobs while intoxicated, would still apply to all other drugs and intoxicants. Company mandated drug tests are perfectly legal as a condition of employment. Drug users deserve to lose their jobs, but they do not deserve to be treated as criminals. There are already laws that exist that protect us from intoxicated drivers. Those same laws apply to people who drive cars while using any intoxicating drugs.

Violence is not caused by using illegal drugs. Violence is a result of drugs being illegal. All major authorities agree that the vast majority of drug-related violent crime is caused by the prohibition against drugs, rather than the drugs themselves. This was the same situation which was true during the alcohol Prohibition of 1919-1933. Alcohol Prohibition gave rise to a violent criminal organization. Violent crime dropped 65 percent in the year Prohibition was repealed. Violence rises from drugs because of the artificially inflated price and profits caused by the black market sale of drugs. As long as drugs are illegal, this market will exist, and so will the violence associated with controlling it.

Legalizing drugs will not lead to great outbreaks of drug addiction. Marijuana was outlawed in 1937. I don't remember reading about widespread addictions in this country before that time. Amsterdam has not become the nightmare drug-infested city as some people claim. After legalizing marijuana in the Netherlands, it was shown that the number of users rose temporarily, but then leveled off to about the same level of users as before legalization.

There is no evidence that smoking marijuana leads to the use of harder drugs. In the first place, it is chemically illogical that the consumption of any drug could give someone the craving for another drug that they have never had.

Many of the arguments against legalization of drugs can be debunked with one simple fact. Whether drugs are legal or illegal one simple fact remains: if somebody WANTS to use drugs, they will find a way to do so. It is probably easier for a child to buy drugs on the black market than it is for them to buy alcohol from a liquor store.

Legalization does not mean endorsement by the government. The United States government was not created to legislate morality or behavior onto its citizens. The people have the right to make such decisions on their own. There is a big difference between the government saying "We will not treat drug users as criminals" and "its ok to use drugs." And children should not be raised by the government. Children should be raised by their parents.

On the subject of public health and safety. Every year...
Tobacco kills about 390,000.
Alcohol kills about 80,000.
Sidestream smoke from tobacco kills about 50,000.
Cocaine kills about 2,200.
Heroin kills about 2,000.
Aspirin kills about 2,000.
Marijuana kills 0.
There has never been a recorded death due to marijuana at any time in US history.
All illegal drugs combined kill about 4,500 people per year, or about one percent of the number killed by alcohol and tobacco. Tobacco kills more people each year than all of the people killed by all of the illegal drugs in the last century. Medical studies have shown alcohol to be the most intoxicating, and tobacco to be the most addictive drug. So why are tobacco and alcohol, the two biggest killers, the legal drugs?


Why did Prohibition fail?

A quick lesson in history and civics...

Amendment XVIII (1919)

Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2. The Congress and the several states shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.

Amendment XXI (1933)

Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any state, territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several states, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the states by the Congress.

White-out looks a little silly on such a wonderful document as our Constitution. Why haven't we learned from the mistakes of our own past failed policies?

The only thing that the 14-year old failed experiment known as Prohibition gave us that was successful was The Untouchables. It makes good TV and cinema. And it won an Oscar for Sean Connery. Robert DeNiro made a great Al Capone too didn't he? But in all of these debates over the War on Drugs, nobody (not even Eliot Ness) seems to ask this simple question: Why didn't Prohibition work?

After years and years of fighting the War on Drugs, one startling conclusion has been made. NOTHING has been done that has stopped or even slowed the amount of drugs being used or coming into this country. As long as people remain uneducated about the dangers of drugs, the demand, and therefore, the market for drugs will exist. By making drugs illegal, we are simply turning that demand over to the black market. And as long as the black market profit exists for drugs, no matter how many citizens of this country that you lock behind bars, there will always be somebody else to take over his share of the market. The invisible hand of capitalism works this way. Ask any economist about supply and demand. The fact remains that the black market artificially inflates the price of and the profit to be made on drugs. Locking drug dealers in jails is not the answer. The profit to be made on the sale of illegal drugs far outweighs the risks that these dealers are willing to take with the authorities.

How many prisons do we need?

Even though drugs are illegal, millions of people try or use drugs everyday. According to the latest surveys, cited by the DEA themselves, there are about 12.7 million people who have used some illegal drug in the last month and perhaps 30 to 40 million who have used some illegal drug within the last year. Of the 12.7 million who used illegal drugs in the last month, about 10 million are presumed to be casual drug users, and about 2.7 million are addicts.

The Department of Justice announced that there are now 1.5 million people in prisons across the United States. Of that number 59.6% are there for drug offenses.

So...
Do we really want to lock up millions of people? Do we want to turn America into a police state to win this war? How many millions of people do you think we ought to put prison for drugs to have the best results? The only REAL way to win the War on Drugs is to turn the United States of America into a police state. Come to think of it...we may already have. Are you willing to give up some of your rights and freedoms to win the War on Drugs? Are you willing to give up some of your rights guarenteed by the United States Constitution? Rights that protect you from the power of the United States government? Do you really want to see increased use of the military in fighting the War on Drugs? Even if the military must be used against United States citizens? Even if the facts show that drugs will never pose a threat to you unless you actually use it?
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." ~ Benjamin Franklin

No other industrialized nation locks up as many of its citizens into jails as the United States of America. (We always have to be #1, don't we?)

And why the difference in the length of sentences for powder cocaine and for crack cocaine? Why are the majority of drug offenders who are locked up in our jails from the minority and inner-city populations? Is it because if we were to start locking up middle class white suburban teenagers that there would TRULY be an outrage over the war on drugs? Let's face some more facts. Who do you think is the primary user of marijuana and many other drugs? If you are a white, middle-class parent living in suburbia, you had better be checking your child's sock drawers more closely. If it turns out that you were a bad parent, do your children then deserve to go to jail?

And sending the United States military to drug-producing countries is also futile. You could send the troops to Columbia to stop the flow of cocaine and to China to stop the flow of heroin. But another country will start to produce a supply to meet the demand that the United States creates. The same flawed logic being applied to locking up drug dealers is being applied here.

How to WIN the War on Drugs?

Take the outrageously inflated profit out of the War on Drugs and a number of things will happen:

  • The senseless violence associates with drugs will disapear overnight.
  • Millions of dollars and man hours will be saved in overworked police forces.
  • Millions of dollars will be saved in court costs.
  • Thousands of non-violent "criminals" will be freed from over-crowded prisons, freeing up space for true criminals, violent offenders and thieves.
The best analysis done to date by any Federal official shows that "legalization" of the now illegal drugs would result in a net $37 Billion annual savings.

Politicians today do not have the courage to admit the War on Drugs is a failure. Personally, I think that too many of them let their judgement be blurred by millions of dollars from tobacco companies, who wouldn't be able to take the competition from another drug on the market. This is a highly emotional issue, and emotions can sometimes blur logical judgement. If you personally know someone who has suffered from using drugs, ask yourself which would have helped them more: personal involvement and treatment or a jail sentence. Does it make sense to send a drug addict to jail, where they can have access to more drugs?

I challenge each and every person who reads this essay to rethink their opinions on the War on Drugs. To examine the hypocrisy in our nations drug policy. There is only one way to win the War on Drugs. The answer is not through criminalizing the act. Only each individual can win the battle with their own war. When it comes to drugs, use the best weapon we have and "just say no."



For more information:
Answers to Specific Arguments on Drug Legalization by Clifford A. Schaffer
Basic Facts about the War on Drugs by Clifford A. Schaffer
A Guided Tour to the War on Drugs
The Marijuana Policy Project
William F. Buckley on the War on Drugs
Should we RE-Legalize Drugs?

Thanks to Clifford A. Schaffer, whose above essays I heavily "borrowed" from.

And this from the Libertarian Platform:

Crime & the War on Drugs
Before there were drug laws in America, there were no drug problems. And prior to the federal government's declaration of War on Drugs in the 1960s, there were no muggers on the street trying to support a $100-a-day habit, no pushers on high school campuses trying to hook children on drugs, no gangs fighting over monopoly drug territories, no drive-by shootings, no crack babies, no overdose problems. Outside of the 14 years during alcohol Prohibition, nothing like this had ever been seen in America. It took the War on Drugs to make it happen.

  • Democratic politicians like the War on Drugs just as it is -- because they love the power it gives the federal government.
  • Republican politicians want to accelerate the War on Drugs -- by taking away more of your Constitutional liberties, by taking away more of your privacy, by turning America into more of a police state.
  • Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate, says the War on Drugs is a total failure. Government can't keep drugs out of the country; it can't even keep drugs out of its own prisons. He wants to end the insane War on Drugs -- which will take the criminal profit out of the illicit drug trade and bring peace to our cities once again. On his first day in office, he will pardon everyone who has been convicted of a non-violent federal drug offense -- to empty the federal prisons of the marijuana smokers and others who are no threat to society, and make room for the truly violent criminals and other thugs who escape prison through early releases and plea bargains to return to the streets and terrorize our citizens.

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