The War on Drugs
As a lifelong student of military history, I am qualified to give you a succinct, astute and accurate assessment of our war on drugs. We lost. I am willing to bet major money that, given a few hours, I can score drugs in virtually any part of the country. Might be a different drug in different geographic areas, but something that is illegal, for sure. Trade is brisk. It’s that old faithful law of supply and demand. Those addicted to drugs create a strong demand. Illegality constricts the supply. There is a risk to the trade, but the profit margins are deemed worth the risk.
Let’s be clear here about the category. Mood altering chemicals is mood altering chemicals. Liquor, weed, oxy, smack, crack, meth . . . are all about the same thing. Injected, snorted or swallowed, the objective is to alter the conscious state of the user. Those ingesting the chemical want to feel physically and psychologically differently than they felt before the in-gestation. Most people can engage in this activity occasionally and in moderation without significant damage to themselves or others. Some people become addicted. They obsessively crave the drug of choice. Their immediate need has to do with abating withdrawal symptoms, but the alcoholic/addict has an ongoing psychological and physical need for the drug, even if withdrawal symptoms have passed. I know people who crave cocaine decades after they cleaned up. My study, and experience with the large organizations of which I have been a part, lead me to believe that about 15% of the population is on something (or, more frequently these days, on several things). Those folks simply matabolize mood altering chemicals differently than the other 85%. It is the most significant public health problem we have, but, unless there is a rash of drunk driving fatalities or opiate overdoses, its significance is ignored. A common symptom of alcoholism/addiction for the addict, his or her family, and society at large is denial. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. Whether you’re sipping brandy in an exclusive club, scoring oxy on a ghetto street corner or swilling a short dog, you are setting out to alter your conscious state. If you do so in an obsessive manor, you’re hooked.
Well . . . Patrick . . . a Libertarian like you should not be concerned. Consenting adults should be able to engage in any behavior they choose, including destructive and dysfunctional behavior. They should, with one major caveat. You should be free to injure yourself, but not others. Drunks and druggies kill people with their vehicles, beat their spouses, violate their kids, steal from family and friends and employers and strangers to support the habit. They turn our streets into bathrooms, fuel the existence of drug gangs (ravaging many our our neighborhoods and all of Mexico and Central America), and cost a great deal of public money. The City and County of San Francisco reportedly spends in excess of $250,000,000 per year on its homeless population (now called unsheltered) and the real number is undoubtedly higher.
Homeless advocates will be quick to say that most of those on the street (known in the alkie trade as “outdoorsmen”) are suffering from mental illness. Some are, but most street people are on something, usually short dogs. There is also a high incidence of both mental illness and addiction. My limited experience is that, when the chemicals are withdrawn, the symptoms of mental illness diminish, or even abate. A combination of clean and sober, plus psych meds, can ofter ameliorate most symptoms.
So, what role does government have in a Libertarian universe? The basic functions of any government should be securing the physical safety of its citizens and the protection of its citizens’ right to quiet enjoyment of their property. What approach to illegal drugs does that suggest? How do we win the war?
First, surrender. Drugs should be legalized. That would end excessive profit, dismantle gangs and empty our prisons. The same 15% of the population would be addicted, but less theft would be required to feed the habit. The sale of drugs should be heavily regulated, either by selling in state run stores or with regular inspections of private sector vendors. A moderately heavy tax could be imposed to fund a public relations campaign, research on the nature of addiction, and mitigation measures. Sale to minors (whose developing brains are severely impacted by lots of the popular chemicals) should be strictly prohibited, and heavily punished. Every hit sold should have a clear notice about the level of potency and lethality of the dose in the package . . . and an 800 number to call for free rehab services.
There is a “cure” for alcohol and drug addiction. Abstinence. Clean and sober does not make the disease go away, but it almost always eliminates the dysfunctional behavior. Taxing the sale of mood altering chemicals to fund free rehab for anybody who wants it could produce a great many newly productive members of our society, and eliminate a lot of mayhem.
Government should contract out rehab services to organizations run by recovering addicts. Active addicts are truly talented liars. They do what it takes to get to the next hit or drink. Anybody attempting to clean folks up should have a highly trained bullshit detector. Recreational users and tee teetotalers are constitutionally unprepared for that level of detection. Rehabs should be spartan, and proscribe as much physical labor as the health of the inmates can tolerate. Rehabs for repeat guests should be even more spartan. Anyone wanting more luxurious circumstances can private pay. Any program with an excessive recidivism rate should be defunded. In the rehab trade, it’s known as tough love. It works.
One day, we may have a chemical solution to the problem of chemical addiction. In the interim, a proven archaic method is available. It has stood the test of time.