A Viable Answer to the Drug Problem

Give them away to addicts.

For many years we have filled our jails with people whose only crime has been hurting themselves by taking drugs.  At the same time we have spent many billions on futile attempts to close our giant borders to drug smuggling.  Meanwhile, our cities are awash in violent crime involving drug dealers, and drug users become criminals in order to buy drugs they need.

Those who advocate the continuation of our failed "drug policy" and those who advocate legalization of drugs now banned are, as is so often the case, taking polar positions, both of which are doomed.  Illegal drugs and even prescription drugs are popular because they give some people what they want and, after a time, often what they need.

The laws restricting drug sales and use cause illegal drugs to be expensive.  The tremendous profit from drug sales is the only force which keeps the illegal drug trade flourishing.  Take away the profit, and the resultant criminal trade of smuggling, murder and corruption will vanish.

For three decades, we have tried increasingly harsh tactics of enforcement, to little effect.  Rather than continuing with the same failed policies, it's time to make some changes.  Drug use will always be a problem; but with a change in tactics, it can become a manageable one.

Decriminalization of Drug Use

First of all, the use of any drugs (as distinct from the illegal sale or distribution of drugs) should not be a criminal offense.  That means that men ought to be allowed to take birth control pills without a prescription, if they want to.

Offenses caused by or contributed to by such use should subject the user to legal consequences, just as drunk drivers can be convicted of manslaughter when their drunk driving kills an innocent victim.  But the mere act of personally using any substance, on its own, should not be a matter for law enforcement concern.

The costs, human and financial, of the present system are daunting.  All studies agree that of the millions of inmates in our crowded jails and prisons a large percentage are drug related and of these, most are not dealers, although some were selling to support their addiction.

Eliminating these victims will save an enormous amount of money, and will allow hardened criminals to remain imprisoned instead of being thrust back into society before their sentenced time has been served.

Remove the Profit Motive

The great virtue of capitalism is that, when properly executed, it harnesses man's natural greed to further the betterment of society and his fellow man.  Private enterprise and the search for profit has benefited our nation immeasurably.

However, the downside of the profit motive is that it can lead the unscrupulous to promote goods and services which are harmful.  This is why, as a society, we mostly outlaw prostitution and heavily regulate cigarettes.

It's not that there is not a market for sex and smoking, nor that customers for those services are forced at gunpoint to pay for them; they choose those products willingly.  But their cost to society as a whole is great enough as to justify heavy discouragement.  The same is true for what are now illegal drugs.

This plan will allow every drug addict - certified so by one or more physicians - to freely obtain whatever drugs he needs to maintain his habit, at government expense.

He would have only one caveat.  The drug is for him, and only him.  If he gives, sells or otherwise distributes what he receives, he will be immediately incarcerated, cold turkey - for a very long time.

Addicts joining this program would be offered, but not required to accept, counseling on breaking the habit, and perhaps even free rehab.  They may choose simply to continue the habit, just as today.  But the addict will no longer be forced to steal, prostitute himself, kill or in any other way terrorize the community in order to obtain his substance.

This generation of addicts will be the ones which will be considered "written off" by some - but their state today is hardly better.  They are not now being protected by being thrown into prison, and their return to drug use after time in jail is nearly universal.  This solution immediately ends a great deal of drug-induced violence, and at least offers some hope of reform for the currently addicted by offering them support for it.

As for new addicts, this system will make it much less likely, precisely because the profit motive will be removed. Anybody who is addicted can get drugs free from the government; why would he want to pay exorbitant prices to his local drug dealer?

Today, drug dealers have an incentive to get people, especially young people, hooked on drugs so that they will become customers.  Under this proposal, selling drugs will continue to be illegal - and getting a new customer hooked will be self-defeating, since once he is addicted, he will be lost to the clinic.

The penalties for selling, along with the greatly reduced profit opportunities, will tend to dry up the business.  It is hard to compete with free!

Confiscation as a Source of Drugs

Over the years of the Drug War, our police services have confiscated billions of dollars worth of illegal drugs.  Sometimes these drugs are destroyed; sometimes they are stolen by corrupt officials and wind up on the street anyway.  There's no reason why existing stockpiles and future confiscations could not supply existing addicts.

Those drugs could be shipped to certification and repackaging facilities where they could be tested, refined as necessary and distributed to initial clinics.  As these sources begin to dry up, government to government arrangements could keep supplies of quality drugs in stock as is already legally done for research scientists and prescribed opiates.

Over time, as the numbers of addicts diminishes, the needed supplies would be less and less, just as the amounts confiscated would also decrease. 

Allowing the government to confiscate valuable materials from crime suspects, like cars, cash, and houses, has tended to corrupt local police forces; any number of lawsuits allege that some police take confiscation too far without bothering to convict anyone of any crimes.  But confiscating illegal drugs does not present the same risk of moral hazard - small amounts, which in this plan would be legal, are hardly worth confiscating, whereas large amounts for distribution would not be legal to possess at all.

By encouraging police confiscation of drugs alone, the public purpose of reducing the drug trade is still served, while lessening the likelihood of unjust confiscation of other perfectly legal valuable possessions.

Marijuana, A Special Case

For the most famously dangerous drugs like heroin, cocaine, and so on, it makes sense for society to discourage their use.  In the company of such poisons, the humble weed stands out as not really belonging in such harmful company.  Since marijuana appears not to be addictive, there's no reason to supply its users with free pot as described above.

Instead, we already have well-regulated methods for supplying other substances that can be harmful when abused, but need not be.  How is marijuana different from alcohol or tobacco?

Growth, distribution and sale of pot could be regulated as alcoholic beverages and tobacco products are now, but its use would not be an offense.  As with these latter products, furnishing it to minors would remain unlawful, as would operating a motor vehicle when impaired.

Our existing system of state, local, and federal regulations on alcohol and tobacco has worked tolerably well for many decades; there's no reason it cannot also handle marijuana at minimal additional cost, but with a tremendous increase in personal freedom and savings to law enforcement.

A Definition of Insanity

America's War on Drugs has gone on for many decades now, at immense personal, social, international, and financial cost.  Yet the street price of drugs has hardly shifted, and if anything there are more drug users today than when the laws were first put in place.

A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result; our War on Drugs meets this definition in spades.

It is time, and long past time, to try something new.  This proposal may not be the ideal solution, but by all reason it should be an improvement on what we're doing now.

For sure, it could hardly be worse!

  Read other Scragged.com articles by Guest Editorial or other articles on Bureaucracy.
Reader Comments
While I certainly agree that the current system has and will continue to fail I do not believe that the government paying for these people will do anything but encourage more use.

I do not believe that, assuming we do not put them on welfare, that people using drugs have a widespread negative effect on society. Simply cut them loose and let them fail, as most drug users do. Their death is not my problem.
May 14, 2009 8:04 AM
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