By Jonathan Parent
I usually pride myself on my ability to understand the points of view of those with whom I disagree on political, social and even religious issues. For example, I vehemently disagree with the assertion that cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans will somehow prompt them to use this windfall to create jobs for working- and middle-class people, though I understand the argument. I even understand why someone would consider the termination of a pregnancy to be murder despite my even more fervent disagreement with this notion. There is one issue, though, that despite my best efforts, I simply cannot understand. And that is how we as a country can continue to justify the perpetuation of the so-called “war on drugs.”
The prohibition of certain substances is both ineffective and, quite frankly, ridiculous. The arguments against drug prohibition are numerous and represent a wide array of interests, most of which are likely familiar to anyone with a passing interest in political and social policy.
In the first place, it doesn’t work. Much like alcohol prohibition in the early 20th century, there will always be a demand and therefore a supply. It is also incredibly hypocritical. Hundreds of thousands of people die every year as a result of alcohol and tobacco use, both of which are perfectly legal and, by many measures, much more dangerous than some controlled substances. Ending drug prohibition would also help alleviate our current fiscal woes, as it would immediately create an entirely new industry and a huge source of potential tax revenues to fund healthcare, education and other social services.
But perhaps the most compelling argument for legalization is the fact that ending the “war on drugs” would save tens of thousands of lives. Since 2006, 37,000 people in Mexico alone have been killed in the seemingly endless battle between cartels for control of the phenomenally lucrative drug trade. 37,000 men, women and children. Every single one of those lives could have been saved if drugs, and I do mean all drugs, were legal, regulated products, manufactured in professional facilities just like tobacco and alcohol and sold by retailers in the same way as these legal intoxicants. It would, quite literally, be an instant solution to the problem of fighting the cartels abroad, as well as the domestic criminal organizations that distribute drugs here in the U.S.
It would normally be at this point that I would present the arguments from the other side and then proceed to explain why these were based on false premises, misleading statistics, or some flaw in reasoning. In this case, however, there simply aren’t any that even approach rationality.
Perhaps we are worried, as we so often are, about “the children?” Ask any American high school student and I assure you they will report that illegal drugs are considerably easier to come by than alcohol. Or maybe we feel that legalizing drugs would somehow encourage more use. Ask the Netherlands, a country where soft drug use has been legal in practice for years, about that fear. Despite this, the Dutch have a lower number of regular cannabis users than Norway, France and the U.K., all of which are countries that outlaw marijuana.
The point is that, from my perspective, there is simply nothing near a rational argument for why we ought to continue our policy of prohibiting those drugs that are currently illegal.
I therefore present a challenge to Concordiensis readers. Whether you agree with prohibition or not, explain to me why the legalization of controlled substances is so controversial? And if this is perhaps too tall of an order, then why, in 2012, are our elected officials still treating drugs the same way they did in the 1930s? Why is prohibition still the answer?