I have never been a drug user; in fact, the entirety of my experience with illegal drug use boils down to one joint shared with friends I haven’t spoken to in nearly fifteen years. In short, drug use, or alcohol use for that matter, has never been something that I have partaken of with any regularity. I have always been wary of both alcohol and drugs because my father spent a considerable portion of his life addicted to both. Indeed, he spent more than a decade on the run from federal marshals on drug charges in our home state.
One of the most awkward events in my teenage life was an encounter with one federal marshal who had mistaken me for my father because we shared a name. It took an extended interview, a comparison of social security numbers, finger prints, and the fact that I was seventeen years too young to be his fugitive to convince him that I was not, in fact, my father. It was enough to leave an impression, to say the least. I made certain to keep my distance from things with addictive properties, such as drugs or alcohol, and I later changed my first name so that I would never again be confused for my father.
Given my life circumstances I have more reason than most to be an advocate for the war on drugs; but in my view I have just as many reasons to believe firmly that the war on drugs is unjust. We have known for many years that many people have a predisposition toward addiction and will develop a dependency with only minimal exposure to a substance. My father, indubitably, was such a person, and I assume given genetics that I would also have that particular limitation. For every person, like myself, who realizes their weakness based on family history and takes measures to avoid potential addictions there will be another like my father who falls into the trap. As a society we have responded to the epidemic of addiction, if there is truly such a thing, by criminalizing the addicts and those who supply them. We have applied disproportionately harsh penalties for crimes of consumption and to those who supply the objects of consumption. The difficulty is that addicts are plentiful and they will pay whatever is required to acquire the object of their addiction; meaning that the benefits of trafficking in illegal substances will always outweigh the costs. We cannot, as a society, set a price so high that the drug lords will not be willing pay because it will always be paid with the blood and tears of their street level operatives. The addicts, on the other hand, pay deeply for crimes they are unlikely to be able to avoid given their neurological predilections.
If we spent the same degree of effort, and treasure, on rehabilitation and treatment we could decrease the level of demand to the point where perhaps the price of supplying the objects of addiction was far too high to pay. In addition, many of the substances that we ban should probably be legally permitted. If we permit alcohol, for example, then we should permit marijuana as well given that it is no more harmful and likely less addictive given present scientific understanding. Then again, we rarely base our laws on as rational a basis as scientific knowledge. If we did then our criminal system would be dramatically different; after all psychologists have a rather decent understanding of recidivism and how to avoid it but most would tell you that our criminal justice system implements precious few of those principles.
In the end the drug war is costly in terms of federal budget and in terms of human lives. It is poorly designed for its purpose and it ultimately has produced only a minimal return for our investment. The truth is that is far past time that we change strategies and reconsider our positions in these matters. It is the only just an honorable thing to do.
This short essay was inspired by: This Post
Image via Bloomwellblends