When my daughter was born, I quickly counted her fingers and toes. I was glad to see ten of each, because if I didn’t do myself serious genetic damage in the 1960s … well, it wasn’t for lack of trying …
During that time, I sampled every kind of drug that I came across. Hey, I was young and stupid, so sue me. I even shot heroin once. It was in a shabby apartment in a sad part of San Francisco. My girlfriend of the time shot me up, and I nodded out in front of the television. When I woke up, I thought “Man, I can pass out in front of the TV without needles, what’s the big deal”? Haven’t tried it since.
As a result of my misguided youth, I’ve seen the drug world up close and personal. I’ve known the players, because I was one of them, they were friends and acquaintances of mine—junkies, stoners, dealers, tweakers, coke whores, smokers, mystics, speed freaks, importers, crackheads, trippers, the good, the bad, and the ugly all came through my life and my living room at one time or another. Like the song says, “I’ve seen the needle and the damage done”.
Based on that lifetime of experience and relationships, here’s what I can tell you about the drug laws. We have two and only two choices regarding drugs in our societies:
We can have junkies nodding out on the street-corners and tweakers compulsively talking about nothing, OR
We can have junkies nodding out on the street-corners and tweakers compulsively talking about nothing, AND both groups mugging Grandma because drugs are illegal.
We do NOT have a choice called “no junkies nodding out on the street-corners”. In Singapore they freakin’ HANG people for being junkies … and despite that, there are still junkies in Singapore.
Look, guys, the US government has been fighting the Richard Nixon-declared War On Drugs for the last fifty years or so, and guess what?
As one example among many showing that we lost and drugs won, for reasons best left unmentioned I happen to know that forty years ago a kilo of cocaine went for about thirty kilobucks per kilogram wholesale. Today, it’s about half of that, and less in constant dollars. Drugs aren’t getting scarcer, they’re getting more common.
Not only has the War On Drugs been lost, but in military terms there has been vast “collateral damage” of that War:
• Perhaps the greatest casualty in the War On Drugs is the loss of trust between the populace and the police force. Many of my friends would be glad to talk to the cops about real crimes. But their involvement with illegal drugs makes them fear and distrust the police. This is a very bad thing for our society.
• This loss of trust is particularly true in the inner cities. Look at Chicago. The relationships between the police and the inner city communities have huge problems because of the drug laws.
• The rise in the power, extent, and violence of street gangs. Almost all of them support themselves by moving drugs. The same thing happened with the Mafia during Prohibition, they became rich and powerful.
• The gradual corruption of the police, the border patrol, and the customs department. When a smuggler can offer a man ten years wages to look the other way, some men will. Police corruption is extremely damaging to the fabric of society.
• The disproportionate incarceration of people of color. For a host of reasons drug arrests are more common among communities of color. Not blaming anybody, just stating a tragic fact.
• In addition, some decades of disparate sentencing, with shorter sentences for snorting cocaine (mostly white people) and longer sentences for smoking crack cocaine (same drug but more common among black people), have added to the racial injustices.
• The number of people in our prisons has gone through the roof.
• Addicts use street drugs, which are often both highly impure to start with, and then adulterated with one or more of any number of chemicals. This has led to human costs in the form of sickness, ER visits, overdoses, and sometimes deaths.
• Addicts spread disease through needle sharing, affecting all of society.
• The War On Drugs does not just affect the US. There has been a huge cost to the world in the form of the rise of the Mexican drug cartels, some of the most bloodthirsty and violent forces around, as well as equivalent armed and dangerous groups in other countries.
• There has been a huge cost in dollars, a needless clogging of the courts, and an immense waste of police resources. Every cop who is out there busting some guy smoking marijuana on his front porch is one less cop arresting a real criminal for a real crime.
Note that these are not the costs of drugs. They are the costs of the War On Drugs.
So we need a re-boot. It’s coming slowly at the margins. For example, a number of states have legalized recreational marijuana. But we need a full re-boot. In best American fashion, we should simply declare victory in the War On Drugs and declare a new policy.
As you might imagine, or perhaps as you might fear, I’ve got some thoughts in this regard … here’s my plan:
First, as the title says, legalize it all. It’s the Gordian Knot solution. Of course it has to be adults only, as with alcohol. But other than that, get the government out of the business of regulating what people ingest.
Next, put the dispensing of the dangerous drugs in the hands of the doctors. Don’t penalize the docs for the amount they prescribe, leave the choice up to them. But we need to keep the addicts from falling out of touch with society. If a pregnant woman goes to a doctor and wants drugs, at least the doctor can explain to her the damage she is doing to her baby … and doctors are about the only people left that other people trust and pay attention to. Because as I said above, sadly we don’t have a choice called “no pregnant women taking drugs” … the best we can do is to make sure somebody who cares about them gets a chance to talk to them about it.
Next, put drug enhancements on our crimes. Just as a car crash when you are drunk merits a longer sentence than if you are sober, if you commit an assault AND you are on drugs, you should get a longer sentence. If you take PCP and kill someone, that should be first degree murder, not second degree, because you knowingly took a dangerous drug. In other words, punish actions and not ingestions or intentions.
Finally, make drugs a social rather than a criminal problem. We did that with alcohol when we repealed Prohibition. We can do the same with drugs. “Twelve-step” and other programs provably help addicts. We need to put our social dollars into programs rather than prisons.
I take this stance for some personal reasons in addition to my own experience. One is that on my mom’s side, alcoholism has been a constant theme for more than a century. At any given time a reasonable chunk of my ancestors and relatives have been alcoholics.
And during Prohibition, in addition to them being alcoholics, they were also criminals … didn’t stop them from being alkies, of course. It just made them felons as well. I never understood why society thought that was an improvement.
The other reason is that when my father was dying, he was in immense pain because the doctors at that time couldn’t prescribe heroin for the pain. The justification was to avoid the patient getting addicted … and my father had days to live.
So I’m opposed to continuing this insane War On Drugs. It has blighted lives, destroyed the inner cities, led to huge gang violence, made my father die in pain, increased racism, affected other countries, incarcerated my friends and relatives, cost a trillion dollars, and at the end of it all …
… we still have junkies nodding on the street-corners and mugging grandma …
We lost the War. Let’s get over it. It’s way past time to try something new, maybe not my suggestion, but we need something—what we’ve been doing isn’t working. Let’s take a different path.
Regards to all,
My Request: In your comments please QUOTE THE EXACT WORDS THAT YOU ARE REFERRING TO, so we can be clear just what you are discussing.