Why Liberals Block Drug Legalization

It would force moral judgments about crime.

It has been a long time since voters expected our leaders to obey our drug laws.  Bill Clinton admitted marijuana use - but only overseas where U.S. law didn't extend, and of course, he "didn't inhale."  George W. Bush had no such fig leaf; it's generally considered that he used marijuana in America as a young man, though he's declined to admit it publicly.

Barack Obama has taken us one step further: not only does he freely admit his marijuana use, he wrote in his autobiography that he used cocaine in high school, and there have even been rumors he may have dealt in the stuff all those years ago.  Nobody cares.

Yet, somehow, despite the clear evidence of hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle, our drug laws don't change.  During the campaign, Obama said he wanted to decriminalize pot; then he said he didn't; then he said he had misunderstood the question; then there was general confusion and fog.

After his election, the same pattern took place: announcements of no pot raids, then announcement there had actually been a pot raid; then a call for an investigation as to why the raid had happened (uh, not too hard - it's the DEA's job to do drug raids) and now, supposedly, a halt on the raids but still no change in the law.

Does Mr. Obama actually believe anything about drugs at all?  Does he think that his office gives him the right to decide which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore?  Or has he taken as his own the infamous words of Richard Nixon: "It isn't illegal if the President does it?"

Given that liberals and leftists are famous for their usage of mind-altering substances and since conservatives have other things on their minds just at the moment, you'd think it would be trivially easy for Congress to slide through a bill of drug decriminalization.  Who would stop it?  Who would complain?  After all, Mr. Obama stands for ending wars right and left; why not end the Drug War as well?

Facing the Consequences

The problem is that ingesting mind-altering substances of any kind has certain predictable consequences - your mind is altered.  It is absolutely true that most drinking of alcohol doesn't result in a crime; it is equally true that there is a certain fairly large number of deaths every year caused by drunk drivers, drunken fights, booze-fueled domestic violence, and the like.  All these antisocial behaviors are illegal, of course, and past decades of activism have led us to the point where they're punished pretty severely as they ought to be.

Buried in the message of MADD, SADD, and all the rest is a core truth that is anathema to liberalism: If you are to freely choose to do things which can be dangerous, you must bear responsibility for your actions.

If you choose to drink, that's fine - do so safely in a bar, or in the privacy of your own home.  If you choose to drink and then drive, however, that is a choice that is too dangerous to innocents; it must be severely punished and stopped.

Fortunately, much of the mayhem caused by drinking is in a category all its own, that of DUI.  Car wrecks happen all the time; it's usually only when the wreck is alcohol-fueled that it becomes a criminal matter.  The strong pressure to punish drunk driving has not led to an equally strong pressure to punish car crashes in general.

Hard drugs, however, are a different story.  Cocaine junkies can certainly get into car wrecks, and trigger a DUI just as if they were drunk; but far more so than alcohol drunks, they can explode into mindless violence, committing robbery and murder to steal anything they can swap for their next fix.

Unlike car crashes, though, assault and battery is never an accident; it is always done on purpose, whether fueled by drugs or by simple greed.  If crime is anything at all, it is a choice, made by the criminal.

Not Your Parents' Fault

What is the constant refrain from the left concerning crime and criminals?  Crime is caused by society - by a lack of education - by lack of jobs - by over-harsh punishments - by anything and everything except the evil choices of the criminals themselves.

The purpose of prison, we are told, is to "rehabilitate" - to plead and cajole the inmates into being good boys in the future.  Department of Justice data show that this doesn't work - over two-thirds of released prisoners are re-arrested inside of three years.

America has seen a marked decline in crime over the last few years at the same time as we've seen an increase in the prison population.  Common sense would suggest a connection between the two, and indeed it's been proven: researchers have found that each inmate incarcerated eliminates 15 crimes per year, saving society $45,000, which is more than the $30,000 cost of their jail cot.

To sum up: it is proven that putting criminals in jail reduces crime.  It is also proven that mind-altering substances increase crime.

Not every drinker is a criminal, of course.  When used properly, the criminal-justice system can lock up drunk-drivers while leaving law-abiding drinkers to enjoy their freedoms.  The existential problem for liberalism is simply that this only works if you accept the principle that people are responsible for their own actions and for the results of their own choices.

Freedom to Shoot Up

What would happen if all government drug laws were suddenly done away with and you could use whatever drugs you could afford?  In the 1800s, that's pretty much how it worked - and the result was much as we see today with alcohol.  There were plenty of ordinary people, some highly successful, who used what are now illegal drugs their whole lives - and then there were criminal junkies, who were arrested by the police and imprisoned for their crimes.

By definition, freedom means the freedom to do stupid things that other people don't agree with, but freedom can't include the freedom to harm others - that's anarchy.  For freedom to exist, a nation must have a government and justice system which can and will protect the innocent and punish those who would do them harm.

By locking up evildoers, government makes moral judgments.  The legislature has decided that murdering innocents on the road because you got drunk and went for a drive is wrong.  Mugging someone is wrong.  Burglary is wrong - and so on down the line.

Perhaps the single biggest difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals choose to see all of these decisions in a world of cloudy gray.  Theft is not always wrong - what if you're hungry?  What if you can't get a job because the government did a lousy job of educating you?  What if your parents beat you?  It's not your fault!

To most liberals, each action must be measured not only by itself, but also by the reason you did it.  No action alone is, by definition and its very nature, wrong and deserving punishment.

Legalizing drugs would force the justice system to confront people committing crimes and to punish them so that people who did not commit crimes could live in peace.  It's much easier simply to outlaw the substance - anyone caught with the substance is a criminal by definition, no need to be concerned with what they actually did or why.

By refusing to confront and condemn people who choose to commit crimes, the political left has reduced freedom for everybody including themselves.

Hope for Change?

So we return to Obama's erratic pronouncements on the subject of illegal drugs.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is sending strong signals that President Obama - who as a candidate said states should be allowed to make their own rules on medical marijuana - will end raids on pot dispensaries in California...

During one campaign appearance, Obama recalled that his mother had died of cancer and said he saw no difference between doctor-prescribed morphine and marijuana as pain relievers. He told an interviewer in March that it was "entirely appropriate" for a state to legalize the medical use of marijuana "with the same controls as other drugs prescribed by doctors."

If this report is to be believed, Mr. Obama may actually reduce the control of the federal government over this area and return power back to the states where it belongs.  What's fundamentally wrong with California legalizing marijuana, should it choose to do so?  Different states have different laws for alcohol; why not also for drugs?

That way, we can all see the great experiment: what works, what doesn't, and at what cost.  Is facing up to the inherent evil of certain criminal choices a price the Left is willing to pay in exchange for freedom of drug consumption?  Perhaps we'll get a chance to start finding out.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
Excellent article! The criminal aspect of the drug war is the locking up of otherwise productive people who don't harm others and who support their families just because they use some drug in a way not harmful to others.

Frankly, I think taking illegal drugs is stupid, it is taking an enormous chance. Legal drug companies spend a billion dollars to ensure effectiveness and safety of the drugs they create to cure horrible diseases ... and some people are harmed by them. Yet, drug users will put into their bodies something an unknown person put together in their garage? It makes no sense to me, but freedom is about allowing people to make their own decisions even ones we think are bad ... as long as the person does not harm others.

This country is about Freedom! Liberty! Do what you want as long as it doesn't harm others.

Legalizing drugs will stop criminalizing otherwise law abiding and productive people, it will reduce the burden of supporting people in prisons, it will end part of the corruption of our government officials, and it will take much of the profit out of illegal drugs...which I fear is the real reason why the law won't be changed.
March 30, 2009 1:48 PM
Someone has to profit from the profits, isn't it?
March 30, 2009 3:08 PM
to group marijuana in with cocaine and alcohol is misleading. the only violence surrounding it revolves around it's illegality. not to mention the money involved that could help save this economy right now. it's america's largest cash crop, yet it remains illegal. it's time to take our blinders off and look at the reality of the situation instead of the propaganda we've been fed for over the last fifty years. a proper democratic government would admit they were wrong and move on, not continue to uphold falsities that support ignorance in our society.
April 1, 2009 2:56 PM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...