Richard Warren Field
The Ultimate Weapon to Win the “War on Drugs”—Legalization
First Posted - May 11, 1999
Any close examination of the “war on drugs” metaphor leads inescapably
to the conclusion that one weapon could bring us to the brink of victory—legalization.
But most who discuss this option consider it surrender.
How have we confused surrender with victory? Let’s start by looking at
the “war on drugs” metaphor closely, and define some “war” terms. First,
who or what is the “enemy?” Second, what defines “victory” in this “war?”
Is the “enemy” in this “war” the drug addict? No reasonable person believes
that. Addicts are in many ways the victims of a “war” policy that drives
up the price of their craved substances to the point where criminal activity
is their only alternative to cold turkey. Alcoholism is often described
as a sickness. Drug addicts merit the same consideration alcohol addicts
Is the “enemy” in this “war” the drug dealers and cartels? If we accept
this premise, the argument becomes too easy! If they are the only enemy,
then legalization wipes them out with one blow! The huge profits from the
inflated black market prices would be gone. That money is their only source
of power. Without the vast wealth accumulated from the black market, their
now-powerful organizations would crumble, degenerating into the common
thugs they really are. But the drug dealer is not the real “enemy;” that
would be too simple.
When President Nixon originally initiated the “war on drugs” rhetoric,
he referred to “drug abuse” as the problem. So the most effective way to
analyze this metaphor is to identify “drug abuse” as the “enemy” we are
Now that we have identified the “enemy,” what would constitute “victory”
over that enemy? Would victory be the total eradication of drugs from our
society? If “drugs” and not “drug abuse” were the enemy, maybe this would
describe victory. As a practical matter, this would probably be impossible.
The attempt would necessitate a society so repressive that the price of
this victory would soon be the end of many liberties we now take for granted,
a price obviously too high.
But the enemy is not “drugs,” it is “drug abuse.” So would “victory” be
the total eradication of all drug abuse? Wouldn’t that have to include
alcohol, prescription drugs, and maybe even caffeine? Here is another unrealistic
and undesirable goal. What is the realistic goal? Let’s agree that drug
abuse is over-consumption, or dangerous consumption. How does a society
control the amount and mode of consumption? By controlling and regulating
the distribution of the substance being consumed. Right now, powerful,
greedy, unscrupulous organized crime cartels control the distribution of
these dangerous substances. With drug prohibition, we have handed control
of distribution, a major key to victory, to organized crime! We can reverse
this mistake by retaking control of distribution with the one-time detonation
of the weapon of legalization. This will allow us to regulate how these
substances are offered to the public. For example, the dangerous and addictive
crack version of cocaine could be regulated out of existence while the
powder, in a safe measured dose, is available legally.
Wouldn’t legalization allow our enemy of drug abuse more access to the
public? It could. So we attack the allies of drug abuse—ignorance and despair.
We attack ignorance with education. We require accurate facts about these
substances on their packages. We collect taxes on the substances and use
the money for informative media campaigns. The education must be factual
and honest, to maintain credibility. (For instance, we need to admit that
nicotine is more addictive than heroin.) When we present the public with
laughable, hysterical, exaggerated and false information, all the education
efforts are worthless, because they lose their credibility. Before drug
prohibition was installed in 1915, consumption of the more dangerous forms
of cocaine and opium were declining. Why? Because the word was getting
out on their dangers! And this was before radio and television. Surely
an effective education campaign could be more effective in our current
era of the mass media.
We attack despair with opportunity and prosperity. We take back the drug
war-zones that prohibition has created in the poorer areas of our cities.
We weaken the lure of gangs by removing the promise of easy money from
the black-market drug trade. We end murders over the issues of illegal
distribution, including territorial disputes and legally unenforceable
deals gone sour. Drug addicts will be able to afford their habits without
becoming criminals. And they will be able to seek treatment without fear
of government sanction.
Wouldn’t legalization put the stamp of approval on our enemy of drug abuse?
Nonsense! Does government approve of smoking, drinking alcohol, committing
adultery, viewing pornography or reading and writing hate literature? Those
activities are all legal.
But what about those who say that the criminal justice system was the only
thing saving them from total self-destruction from drug abuse? Legalization
would not eliminate crimes involving victims. Driving while intoxicated
should be prosecuted vigorously. I would add that working while impaired
by intoxication should be considered a crime. The employer and customer
contacts are victimized by that behavior. If an addict in trouble is not
employed, and not driving, then we will have to rely on social methods
other than law enforcement to get them help. Education on how to assist
a friend or relative trapped in a drug abuse pattern would be part of a
good attack against ignorance.
People who advocate drug prohibition make an assumption about human beings—that
we’re too stupid, or can’t be trusted, to regulate our own affairs. But
besides pure evil, the biggest danger to individual liberty is a government
that feels it has to take care of us, and makes laws to protect us from
ourselves. My beliefs about what is best for me will inevitably clash with
government’s, and the repression of my liberties will begin.
What are we waiting for? We have this powerful weapon available, so easy
to deploy, yet we continue to fight the “war on drugs” without it. Isn’t
it time we unleash this weapon, and move ourselves closer to true victory!
Copyright © 1999 by Richard Warren Field
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