It seems as if the cry of "legalize drugs!" is being heard everywhere from liberals as well as conservatives. Some people argue that legalizing drugs is the only way to "win" the drug war. I agree that drug enforcement does place a burden on us. Economic resources are used up that could be used elsewhere. But the consequences of legalizing drugs would make an already large problem completely out of control. If one examines the arguments behind drug legalization, it becomes apparent that legalizing drugs won't solve any of our Nation's drug problems.
I do want to clarify one thing: I will agree that some of the tactics being used in the drug war are ineffectual and misplaced. I often read about cases where government agents barge into an individual's house (and sometimes the wrong house!) to arrest an individual drug user whose only crime was to ingest an illegal drug, while drug lords who are bringing millions of dollars worth of drugs into our country are ignored. I believe that we need to focus more on educating children on the dangers of drugs and keeping the drug dealers from bringing the drugs into the country in the first place. I am more concerned with drug dealers who sell the drugs than the person who buys them, and I am more concerned about people who are under the influence of drugs such as PCP than those who are smoking pot in the privacy of their own home. However, just because some of the effort may be misplaced, that does not mean we should throw in the towel and make all currently illegal drugs legal. Re-focus our efforts, yes. Eliminate our efforts, no.
Argument 1: "But taking drugs is an individual's choice...."
This is the main argument, especially from my fellow conservatives - that individuals have the right to do as they see fit, as long as they do not harm anyone else. They choose to put the drugs inside their body, and they have the right to make that choice, without government interference. In theory, I understand this argument - I think there is presently too much government, and our present government limits individuals' rights too much with many inappropriate laws and regulations. But the argument regarding an individual's rights has two major flaws.
First, we don't have the right to do anything we want with our body. Can I walk down the street naked? Can I say what I want anywhere I want? (if you said "yes" to the last question, try yelling "hijack" on a plane and get back to me.) The point is, we can't do anything we want with our body. If drugs ever become legal, be prepared to see me walk around topless - after all, men can do it. Which is more harmful - me walking around with no shirt or me shooting up with crack? I'll be damned if people are allowed to shoot up with drugs and I have to wear a top on a blazing hot day in the summer!
Many people have emailed me with the assumption that I use the example about walking around topless because I am a prude, or because I think going around topless is disgusting, or, as one person put it, I am caught up in "body-hating Christian dogma." This shows that they missed the point entirely. The point I was trying to make was that an act that is completely NATURAL is not allowed, and thus showing that we are not free to do what we want with our own body. I in fact think it's silly that women and men have different rules about whether they can wear a top or not, yet I don't hear as many people complaining about that. So, please don't email me telling me that I must hate my body.
In addition to people not being able to do "whatever they want" with their bodies, drugs do NOT just hurt the person who chooses to use them.
For instance - I am sure people have heard about flashbacks from LSD. So, let's people stay inside in their own home and take LSD - that can't hurt anyone - right? After all, it's in their private home - right? LSD can cause flashbacks years after taking the drug, at any time. Is that person going to have a flashback while sitting at home - or while driving? Or while operating machinery? If that person has a flashback while driving the bus and an accident results, will people be so quick to say that the bus driver's "choice" to take LSD didn't hurt anyone else?
People and their rights donít exist in a vacuum. The notion that drugs only hurt the people who use them is very shallow and illogical. One needs to look beyond themselves and look at the entire picture, and it becomes obvious that drugs have drastic effects on MANY people besides those who use them. For instance, according to a 1994 Newsweek report on child abuse, "Drugs now suffuse 80 percent of the caseload; sexual and physical assaults that once taxed the imagination are now common." It is also estimated that 100,000 babies a year are born addicted to cocaine. I don't think these babies chose to take these drugs.
Don't tell me that drugs only hurt the user - Tell that to a crack baby. Tell that to a woman who is raped by her boyfriend while he was high on PCP. Or tell that to the six year old that is raped by that same guy....Tell that to the taxpayers who will be paying out the wazoo for higher insurance rates, more taxes for drug rehabilitation programs, and more money for court cases due to the increased number of drug related offenses.
Please don't tell me that drugs hurt only the person who chooses to use them - that's not true.
In addition, if taking heroin or cocaine is an individual's "choice", then isn't also their "choice" to take any other drug they wish? With this in mind, what are we going to do about all the drugs that are available by prescription only? Let's say someone wanted to take a prescription diet pill, such as "Phen-Fen" (phentermine and fenfluramine). First, one needs a prescription, and a doctor won't prescribe the drug unless he/she deems it necessary. Secondly, this drug has now been removed from the market due to dangerous side effects. However, heroin, and cocaine, for example, have dangerous side effects too. How can we prohibit drugs because of side effects and then allow people to take cocaine? If people know the side effects of a drug, isn't it their "choice" whether not to take it?
Why should I have to go to a doctor and get justification for a medication, whether it be an antibiotic or Tylenol with Codeine, when other people can take heroin whenever they choose? How are we going to justify the need for prescriptions for medications which are much less harmful when people can get crack at any time? Why can't I take a powerful prescription diet pill (I don't take these - this is an example) whenever I want, without a prescription, if people can shoot up on heroin?
I can't see how we can force people to get prescriptions for other medications when they can get "hard drugs" whenever they like. So, in other words, we either have to eliminate the need for prescriptions for all drugs, and allow "banned" drugs, such as Phen-Fen, or we're going to have safer drugs harder to get than the more dangerous drugs.
Argument 2: "Legalizing Drugs will Mean Less Government."
"But you're a conservative!" people complain. "How can you support the government regulation of a substance?! I thought you wanted LESS government!"
Strangely enough, people think that somehow the government will step aside and not be involved in the drug issue if they were legal - but that is a fantasy world. Government is all over the tobacco and alcohol industry - do people really think they won't be involved in drug regulation? Let's be realistic for a minute:
1. New laws for minors. If cigarettes and alcohol cannot be sold to minors, can anyone realistically say that drugs will not be restricted from minors? So, there will be new laws regulating the selling to minors for each and every drug that is legalized.
2. Lawsuits - I'm sure everyone is aware of all the lawsuits being brought against the tobacco industry...take a guess how many lawsuits will be brought up for drugs.....notice all the regulation and laws surrounding cigarettes? Legal drugs means MORE LAWS, MORE REGULATION AND MORE GOVERNMENT, higher taxes and higher insurance rates.
3. Campaign corruption: The tobacco industry owns many politicians now - can you imagine the drug industry? We'd have politicians selling out to the drug companies instead of tobacco companies. And if one is tempted to argue that the government already is selling out to the drug lords - well, think how much that would increase if it could be done legally.
4. Do people really think that drugs will not be taxed? They will - in fact it is the tax FROM the drugs that is proposed to pay for all the new drug rehabilitation programs that will be put in place. (a little more on that shortly)
Legal drugs will be regulated by the government, just as alcohol is, and thus, this government controlled item will have lots of OUR TAX dollars poured into it. Even proponents of drug legalization, such as Nobel economist Milton Freedman and the conservative William F. Buckley admit that the government will play a significant role in legal drug regulation. Legalizing will not make us free. Instead, it will make us drones dependent on government largeness for property and happiness.
Now, many say "But I don't like the government regulating other things either! I don't think they should regulate drugs or anything else!" Well, I'm certainly not one for government sticking it's nose in everywhere. If I did, I'd be a Democrat. However, legalizing drugs is NOT going to magically change the government. Legal drugs aren't going to get the government out of everything. If you want to change the government, then work on that first. Legalizing drugs will not work magic on our government - that has to be done separately. If the government is not changed prior to drug legalization, then legalized drugs will lead to more government.
Many times, when I bring up the point that increased drug use also means more tax payer funded rehabilitation programs, the response is "No - there should be no programs - they should have to pay for it themselves."
Well, wait a second...if this is true then the same will have to be done for people who are sick because of other self-induced problems, such as eating disorders (after all, no one is MAKING these bulimic people throw up) people with lung cancer (after all they CHOSE to smoke) people who have drinking related problems (after all, they CHOSE to drink) people with weight problems (after all they CHOSE to overeat) people with joint problems from running (they CHOSE to run)...do we really want that?
Argument 3: "The Drug War isn't Working..We need to try something else."
Well, the Drug War was working....and then we elected Bill Clinton as President. We can win the drug war without resorting to legalization, as shown by the consistent decrease in drug use from 1979 and 1992. However, under Bill Clinton, the drug use rate among youth aged 12-17 has increased 106 percent and marijuana use among young people has increased 141 percent. ("Preliminary Estimates from the 1995 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse," U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 8/96)
Now, I am not suggesting that Bill Clinton bears full responsibility for drug increase. Personal and parental responsibility is a must, and Clinton can't "make" people use drugs. But let's look at what Clinton did to the "War on drugs."
In 1993 and 1994, President Clinton made seven addresses to the Nation; none mentioned illegal drugs. The President's 1993 presidential papers reveal 13 references to illegal drugs in a total 1,628 presidential statements, addresses, and interviews. Of 1,742 presidential statements and other utterances in 1994, illegal drugs were mentioned only 11 times. ("National Drug Policy: A Review of the Status of the Drug War," House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, H.Rept. 104-486, 3/19/96)
When Clinton took office in 1992, he slashed the White House Office of Drug Control Policy by 80% and cut the number of drug enforcement - agents and their training.
His National Security Council dropped the war on drugs from THIRD priority to last - 29th out of 29. (Star Tribune, 2/14/93)
His Attorney General, Janet Reno, criticized minimum mandatory jail sentences for drug crimes.
His Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, called for studying the legalization of drugs.
Between 1993 and 1994, the number of aircraft and ships devoted to drug interdiction was cut in half.
Even other Democrats have voiced concern on Clinton's non-existent drug policies. Congressman Charles Rangel pointed out, "I've been in Congress over two decades, and I have never, never, never found any administration thatís been so silent on this great challenge (illegal drugs) to the American people."
Argument 4: "Legalizing Drugs Will Reduce Crime.."
Crime will also not be reduced by drug legalization. Studies show a correlation between drug use and crime - violent crimes such as homicides, assaults and domestic violence. Why is this? It's quite simple - drugs cause violent behavior.
Has anyone considered that the reason that people committed a crime was because they were ON drugs in the first place - legal or not? That they weren't necessarily committing a crime to get illegal drugs, but the drugs themselves caused a violent behavior (which would not magically go away if the drugs were legal) which lead them to committing a crime - something that would not have happened if they had not TAKEN drugs? In actuality, crime will rise when drugs are legal because more people will be taking drugs. Crime is high in high-drug use areas not because people are committing a crime to get drugs, but the influence of the drugs made them more inclined to commit a crime. For instance:
A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (7/6/94) reports that cocaine use is linked to high rates of homicide in New York City and that "homicide victims may have provoked violence through irritability, paranoid thinking or verbal and physical aggression which are known to be pharmacologic effects of cocaine."
Data from the National Institute of Justice (U.S. Department of Justice) Drug Use Forecasting (DUF) program underscore the crime-drugs link. Of a sample of males arrested in 23 U.S. cities in 1993, the percent testing positive for at least one drug in the DUF survey ranged from 54% in Omaha to 81% in Chicago. Among female arrestees, the percent testing positive for any drug in 20 cities ranged from 42% in San Antonio to 83% in Manhattan.
The violent behavior caused by drugs won't magically stop because the drugs are legal. Legal PCP isn't going to make a person less violent than illegally purchased PCP. So, crimes committed because of drugs will increase as the number of drug users increase with the legalization of drugs. The psychopathic behavior that drugs cause will not somehow magically stop because drugs are legal.
Legalization proponents ignore the fact that the people committing violent crimes are career criminals who will not stop their illegal activities once drugs are legalized; they will instead seek new sources of illicit revenue.
I am not denying that some of the present crime is due to the profit motive behind illegal drugs. I admit that causes crime. However, if drugs were legal, not only would there be an increased crime rate due to the increased number of people who were taking drugs, but there would still be a "black market" and profit motive, which brings me to my next point..The Black Market.
Many argue that the element of profit would be eliminated. If drugs were legal, it is suggested that they would be sold at regulated government stores. Or according to economist Milton Friedman, at "ordinary retail outlets." Other legalizers say that drugs would be given out to the poor addicts who could not afford them.
William F. Buckley believes prices would be low enough to wipe out the black market. Buyers would, however, be heavily taxed to pay for drug education programs and rehabilitation centers.
Yet the tax would make it possible for criminals to undercut the official price and continue to rake in profits. So then what does the government do? Make prices so low that a second-grader with a few pennies can afford it and leave them no revenue for the proposed program? And think about this: drug related crimes are the highest where crack is the cheapest.
In addition to the official price being undercut, there are drugs that even most legalizers agree are too dangerous to make legal, such as crack and PCP. So guess what! Unless we legalize crack, PCP, and heroin, the black market will still exist for the more dangerous drugs. Now, let me stress this again - even if drugs are legalized, there will still be a black market for them. I stress this because people continue to write to me wailing "But legal drugs will get rid of the black market!" The black market argument is old, unfounded, and not logical. And even if legalization eliminated the black market, does this mean we legalize everything to avoid a black market? Let's legalize stealing - after all, then these poor robbers won't have to sneak around, and possible harm someone out of fright. See, we can cut down on deaths by legalizing robbery! Sound silly? Exactly.
Argument 5: "Legalizing Drugs will take the thrill out of Drugs and people won't use them."
Past experience shows that this isn't true. Did alcohol use decrease when it was legalized? No. When abortion became legal, did abortions decrease? No. When an action becomes legal, the number of people carrying out that action increases. Drugs are not different.
In addition, unless the most harmful and addictive drugs such as crack and heroin are made legal, people will still be drawn to these "black market" drugs.
How about young children and teenagers? They won't be able to purchase drugs, just as they can't purchase alcohol. Pushers would then concentrate on young people, and how will they learn to say no to pushers when they see their parents getting high with the consent of the government? Legalization would create a large group of new drug users - children.
The drug war is long and difficult and sometimes seems hopeless but we shouldn't just give up. As William Bennet, a strong fighter in the drug war states, "Imagine if, in the darkest days of 1940, Winston Churchill had rallied the West by saying, 'This war looks hopeless, and besides, it costs too much. Hitler can't be THAT bad. Let's surrender and see what happens.'" This is essentially what legalizers suggest. With all the other problems we face, it seems absurd to legalize something that in turn could destroy us.
"In a society of victims and mendicants to the welfare state, drug legalization is suicide. We refuse to hold people morally and financially culpable for their actions, yet drugs should be readily available. That's like giving alcohol and car keys to a rebellious 13 year old. Only a virtuous society can remain free from tyranny and slavery. Drug-legalization is a mockery of liberty no less than socialism is to equality" Ron M. Lewenberg - The neo-conservative futurist with libertarian tendencies
Copyright © 1996 - 1999 Carolyn C. Gargaro