Roger McCormack ‘14, Staff Writer
The scandalously unjust war on drugs could be more accurately labeled a war against human nature, and has had correspondingly appalling returns.
The Marijuana Policy Project’s 2010 report shows 853,000 marijuana-related arrests, “one person every 19 seconds.” The staggering resources spent on a substance far less dangerous than alcohol (and conducive to health in many instances) at a time of fiscal hardship is irresponsible to say the least. More remarkably, only 103,000 of the 853,000 arrests were for distribution. The vicious cycle of a felony charge for drug possession further contributes to economic malaise and the expenditure of the state, all for a product with unceasing demand and innocuous properties.
Legalization would also likely result in a weakening of the allure associated with illegal drugs. The boorish underage drunkenness America is renowned for doesn’t really happen in Europe, whose drinking laws are significantly liberal (18 being the normal drinking age). This often goes hand in hand with marijuana consumption, as illegality unquestionably produces rebellion and solidarity, sentiments legalization would significantly diminish.
The war on drugs has also created extensive power for police departments across the country, catalyzing corruption and the rash use of force. Radley Balko, author of “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” documents disturbing trends: “The number of raids conducted by SWAT-like police units has grown accordingly. In the 1970s, there were just a few hundred a year; by the early 1980s, there were some 3,000 a year. In 2005 … there were approximately 50,000 raids. Some federal agencies also now have their own SWAT teams, including NASA and the Department of the Interior.”
Creeping militarism within a civilian organization gives one pause about entrusting gung-ho wannabe soldiers with powers so easily abused. Moreover, the uncritical loyalty shown across the United States for policemen likewise shows the tribal mentality integral to sustaining a mentality in which utilizing force is more the norm the exception. Established U.S. standards of justice are symptomatic of this trend. For example, the chance that the death penalty will result from the murder of a police officer is almost certain, while a person in another profession cannot hope to have recourse to primitive justice. The chasm this has created is visible in diverse areas of society, the most interesting being the false attribution of non-civilian status to police (a distinction solely reserved to members of the armed forces).
Balko finds gross misuses of the police’s new quasi-military prowess: “I have collected over 50 examples in which innocent people were killed in raids to enforce warrants for crimes that are either nonviolent or consensual (that is, crimes such as drug use or gambling, in which all parties participate voluntarily). These victims were bystanders, or the police later found no evidence of the crime for which the victim was being investigated. They include Katherine Johnston, a 92-year-old woman killed by an Atlanta narcotics team acting on a bad tip from an informant in 2006; Alberto Sepulveda, an 11-year-old accidentally shot by a California SWAT officer during a 2000 drug raid; and Eurie Stamps, killed in a 2011 raid on his home in Framingham, Mass., when an officer says his gun mistakenly discharged.”
The idea of a “victimless crime” is troublesome to begin with, as the state’s determination of what engagements consenting adults may partake of smacks of a misappropriation of power. The indiscriminate use of violence in response to harmless acts leads to the obvious conclusion that rigorously tempering this power should be a priority for preventing the deaths of innocents, though it goes without saying that raids when the elderly and children are present should not be happening without caution in any circumstance. Police departments across the country also face elevated levels of graft, widespread corruption due principally to drug prohibition (Illegal searches, planting drugs, and stealing drugs from dealers, to name just a few).
The lessons learned from the benefits of marijuana legalization can be easily extrapolated to the harder stuff. For instance, the illegalization of cocaine contributes to the brutal violence wrought by Mexican drug cartels, aided in this by U.S. appetites and policies.
The National Interest, a foreign policy journal, records the results of the drug trade: “Mexico’s share of the $300 billion to $350 billion global illegal-drug trade is estimated to be at least $35 billion, and according to the former DEA liaison at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, perhaps as much as $60 billion, per year. That sum is in a country that the CIA estimates has a modest legal gross domestic product of $1.18 trillion. In other words, the drug trade is equal to at least 3 percent and perhaps nearly 6 percent of Mexico’s entire economy.”
The United States, when viewing statistics such as these, commonly pursues measures such as gun control (to prevent cartels from obtaining firepower) or increased DEA raids. However, The National Interest also shows the ineffectiveness of punitive measures: “The cartels obtain weapons from the international black market, the armories of Central American countries the U.S. helped fill during the fight against communist infiltration of the region in the 1980s, and even Mexico’s own military depot” — hardly legal venues championed by groups like the National Rifle Association.
The consequences of the war extend beyond graft and squandered resources, as the perils of prohibition have fostered poverty and pillage on a national level. The case of Afghanistan presents an example non-paralleled in the possible benefices of legalization. Slate magazine reports that the “United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that Afghanistan produced 93 percent of the world’s opium crop – as much as 8,200 metric tons – with the bulk of the revenue going directly to the Taliban or local warlords.” The response by Western forces has been to burn, or threaten to burn, Afghan farmers’ only cash crop.” The legacy of prohibition has proven that any attempts to ban a popular product will spawn criminality and enable gangsters to accrue exorbitant amounts of money — revenue that, sold on the legitimate market and taxed by legitimate governments, could be used for humane purposes.
Foreign Policy magazine argues that the United States lacks the requisite amount of pain-killers and opiates for an aging and sick population, and Afghanistan remains beset with poverty, tribal rivalries and the perennial problem of Islamism (international terrorism is often funded by the profits of the drug trade). Both countries would benefit enormously, as the insatiable desire for opiates continues to be satisfied through illicit channels. The deplorable policy of burning opium crops, a product frequently used as a medicine, to demonstrate some sort of moral resolve is ludicrous. Serious ethical reflection would lead to the conclusion that Afghanistan would benefit greatly from a robust economy. This economy could eventually reach a level of dynamism aiding in a rejection of theocratic fascism. The hollow moralizing of the United States is unlikely to end, though, and the nasty consequences can only lead one to lament what might have been.
The English philosopher John Gray, in his book “Straw Dogs,” cuts deeply into the absurdity of the drug war: “Consciousness and the attempt to escape it go together. Drug use is a primordial animal activity. Among humans, it is immemorial and nearly universal. What then accounts for the ‘war on drugs’”?
The case for legalization is powerful and coherent, and any policy seeking to diminish addiction should begin with the recognition of drug addiction as a medical problem, rather than a phenomenon amenable to eradication by might and decree.