disobedia : editorial
should drugs be legalized?
[stepping beyond the common perspectives]
issue 5.1 | summer 2000
Why is harming one's self a crime? And why is it that we have a right to live, but we do not have the right to die? Isn't it bad enough that they can force you to be born into this world? They dictate what you can and cannot do for a lifetime, and apparently they are entitled to drag it out as long as possible.
Really, I'm not being sarcastic: exactly why is it unlawful (and by some people's standards, immoral) for a person to slowly or quickly kill himself? Are there so many people itching to commit suicide that it would jeopardize the survival of the species?
You should have the right to do whatever you like to your own body. So long as you do not injure or kill others in the process, and so long as you are apprised of and fully prepared for the consequences well beforehand, you should have the right to abuse or even to permanently shut down your body. Who decided that self-endangerment and self-destruction are not inalienable rights?
If you are obese, who are we to interfere? If you want to drive your car without wearing a seatbelt or to ride a motorcycle without putting on a helmet, why is that illegal? If you want to basejump off the side of a cliff with nothing more than a single handheld parachute, what right do authorities have to stop you? So you might suffer, might sustain injuries or might die, so what? It should be your choice, your decision, your right...
Of course, society has no obligation to put itself out on your behalf. If you get hurt or quiver at the brink of death, no one should have to help you after such behaviors. No one need put forth any effort to heal you, sustain you, or save you. If they do, the price tag for it should be borne by you and solely you -- not your mommy and daddy, not your spouse, not your insurance company, and not your fellow taxpayers. And if you croak, no one need mourn your loss. After all, that was your choice, your decision, and your right. Fair is fair.
So then...why not legalize drugs? After all, if you have a right to do whatever you want with your body, shouldn't you be allowed to snort coke or shoot heroin?
The trouble is that many restricted or illegal drugs impair your judgement and are highly addictive. Certainly you should have the right to do what you like with your body; however, that right isn't granted without question or concern. That right is granted under the condition that you are actually exercising your choice throughout the entire process and that you are capable of accepting responsibility. You must comprehend the totality of what you are about to do, must understand and accept the consequences of your actions, must have the consciousness to maintain your perspective, must have the power to opt out of participating at any time, and must retain enough judgement to reasonably avoid endangering others. How many people who currently use illegal substances have reconciled even one of the above criterion? I see thousands of people regularly using and abusing legal substances who are no better...which leads me to another point...
Now, it may be conceivable that drugs could be legalized and that everyone could be properly educated thereby making better informed decisions. Maybe the idea of taking precautions to protect innocent bystanders would result in natural feelings that are popularly embraced, rather than simply resulting in rules that people resist like laws against drinking and driving. Perhaps, those who overdose would cease to get the sort of medical attention they have in the past, but rather would be permitted to pass on and would be peacefully buried without moral judgement. And the resources that the government once expended on the drug war could be redirected into programs to more effectively help those wishing to "kick the habit." I believe it is possible. It is possible if the only result of legalizing drugs would be that law enforcement would stop arresting and prosecuting those who are currently considered offenders -- and everything else remained the same. Indeed, some have suggested that removing the risks of selling drugs would lower the street price of narcotics, thereby lowering the rates of various crimes associated with drug dealing and drug using.
Unfortunately, legalizing drugs will likely have another side effect, too: the wholesale corporatization of the illicit drug industry. They won't just be selling soda, beer and cigarettes anymore. Where there's money to be made, they'll go out of their way to make it, and they will think nothing of messing with everyone's heads and lives for the bottomline. Hell, they'll find scientists and doctors who will swear they've conducted studies which show that freebasing lowers your chance of developing heart disease or prostate and breast cancer -- or that contrary to hundreds of years of history and science, smack is not addictive. Guess what sort of impulse items will be near the line at the supermarket check-out. I can only imagine how the commercials, print ads and billboards will promote the cause. Within a few short years, they'll brainwash every middle class American into thinking that beside an SUV, he also needs a handbag full of methamphetamines. What sort of informed decisions will we be able to make with these bastards running interference? I don't think I'm alone in thinking that drug dealers ought not have billion dollar ad budgets.
I do not believe that open legalization of drugs is a good idea. Instead, how about if we leave it illegal on the books as a symbolic gesture to draw attention to the necessity for caution, but we simply cease to enforce many of the drug-related laws (a destinction of decriminalizing rather than legalizing). This could be achieved specifically by redirecting the allocation of funds used for the aggressive enforcement of certain drug laws. In addition, other laws could be redesigned or reshaped to be more constructive -- to help people rather than to punish them.
It appears to be a waste of time and money to arrest, prosecute and imprison people for using or possessing drugs. It seems particularly wasteful in cases where the user behaves responsibly and is not an addict. Tax money seems like it would be better spent on education, prevention and voluntary rehabilitation. Let me repeat that: education, prevention and voluntary rehabilitation. And when I say education, I don't mean sugarcoating it.
Naturally, if you committed a crime against someone while under the influence, you would be legally liable for your acts and your damages. Moreover, if you inadvertently become a danger to others, you would not only be temporarily restrained but would owe restitution to cover the costs incurred in restraining you. If while pregnant you are found using any substance which causes birth defects, stunts fetus development or leads to premature birth, you would not be permitted to carry that fetus to term.
If you are an addict and likely to repeat crimes against others, then and only then should you be incarcerated; to protect others from you, not to protect you from yourself. Jail for problematic drug addicts would consist of individuals in cubic cages, complete with an unlimited supply of any drug they desire. If you request rehab, it's free of charge, and if you clean up your act, you're free to go. Otherwise, you can choose to do your drugs until you overdose. Then, you're carried out and buried with dignity. Come to think of it, school fieldtrips to see what drug prison is like -- now that would be very educational.
As far as the matter of selling drugs, there's no point to picking up small time pushers unless they are targeting youths. Big time drug dealers and their associates, on the other hand, should be watched and dealt with strictly. The intention should be to prevent the development of any sort of power base -- and by that, I mean some mutated incarnate of a corporation with anything even remotely resembling employees, mass distribution, mass marketing, retail outlets, or lobbying power. The approach should be aligned more with an anti-trust attitude instead of an anti-drug attitude. Grant the freedom but maintain a decentralized status. Pardon the potential pun, but drugs should become and stay grassroots. A personal and private right, not an economic lever. Grow it in your backyard, cook it in your kitchen, do it in your bedroom, give it to your friends -- but no one makes money on it. No one. It's not inconceivable. Without the police disrupting, John Q. Public would swiftly get his hands on the seeds and the recipes, and by then, few would want to pay to get something they could themselves generate for free. I suspect disabling drug rings would be a little simpler in such an environment.
And what about alcohol and tobacco? I have often felt it was ironic that alcohol (a highly addictive substance which tends to promote the violent nature of those who abuse it) is legal, while marijuana (a barely addictive substance which tends to induce passivity in most of those who use it) is illegal. Alcohol and tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars or chew are hardly benign. I propose they ought to fall to the same fate I outlined above for all other drugs. People should have the right to use them, but it should in no way be encouraged or have any economic value.
Unfortunately, the matter of alcohol and tobacco may be lost because the habits are far more widespread, far more socially acceptable, and currently being controlled by a bunch of wealthy but morally-bankrupt conglomerations who profit from usage. Might I suggest something to those of you so fond of drinking and/or smoking? You probably shouldn't smoke or drink unless you are trying to kill yourself. If you actually want to live, then think about this: you are paying them to poison you to death. They are getting rich off of you, and after years of your loyalty to their product, when you are sick, maimed or dying, they will reward you by abandoning you and moving on to their next generation of "customers" (also known as "victims"). There seems to be little accountability for what they do. You, on the other hand, are held entirely responsible for everything you do. Funny that they're allowed to kill you, but you are not allowed to kill yourself.
Like illegal substances, alcohol and tobacco can be dangerous and addictive. You should have a right to use them if you so desire; however, you should be aware of the short- and long-term effects and you should be prepared to accept the consequences. If you say that you don't care if you die sooner, you had better mean it, and if you really mean it, then everyone should get the hell out of your way. If you want to jump off that cliff, you just go right on ahead, dear.
For a free society to function, you need honest, sensible and practical interpretations of information, the effective dissemination of this information, and the promise that each member of society will make his best effort to weigh both his own rights as well as the rights of others. I find it amazing that so many people would rather be ignorant, irresponsible or exploited. Why would you not want to be informed, be responsible, and assume some sort control over your life and/or your death?
If drug use is decriminalized, it is unlikely that the world will come to an end. There are only two potential outcomes. One is that better-informed people will choose not to engage in drug use or will be free to take a deliberated and responsible approach to drug use. Crime will subsequently decrease, and quality of life will improve. Or two, hoards of unbelievably stupid people will become self-destructing addicts and quickly kill themselves off. Crime will subsequently decrease and quality of life will improve. So tell me again: what is the dilemma?
When it comes to drugs, it is futile and even morally questionable that we meddle in the affairs of the nation of Colombia. It appears that for economic reasons, the majority of Colombian citizens and politicians support the drug cartels, and it is obvious that few there are concerned about the blight that they continue to unleash upon other peoples. The cartels are not an dissident faction. The drug industry and the wealth it has created are an integral part of Colombia's economy. Tolerance and even support of the drug cartels is the sentiment of the entire nation.
Because of that, despite how their views conflict with ours and their behavior serves to harm our population, to interfere politically or militarily in their countries simply for our own ends is inappropriate -- and will prove to be a waste of our time, resources and personnel. The more appropriate line of defense would be to focus within our own borders. The social issues and addiction problems notwithstanding, drugs are quite simply a business, and a business is subject to supply and demand. History has shown that attempting to cut off supply is a costly and ineffective pursuit. Focus should instead be shifted to altering demand.
By decriminalizing drugs in the U.S., we would be attacking the demand on two fronts. Education and prevention programs would lower drug use and experimentation for one segment of the population. And for the segment determined to try and use drugs, local self-created supplies would mean that users (casual or abusing) would have decreased need for imported stock. Consequently, decriminalizing drugs would dramatically reduce the perceived necessity to send foreign aid and military assistance to police drug cartels abroad. The way to slow the inflow is to slow the demand.
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