In my previous post I explained the true drug problem. I differentiated the symptoms from the underlying pathology by defining “the drug problem” as a conflict between:
In my next post I will propose my own plan for addressing the drug problem. But first, this post discusses five existing approaches to drug policy and explains why they don’t work.
By prohibition, I mean making it illegal to import, produce, sell or consume a substance. In the language of my previous post, prohibition explicitly rejects the individual’s right to choose how s/he lives his or her life.
This is the approach of the United States with respect to drugs like Marijuana, Cocaine and Heroin. The reason this doesn’t work comes down to first-year economics. Barriers on the supply chain of a product (i.e. prohibitions on importing and production) increase the difficulty and risk associated with distributing that product. Increased risk drives up profit margins to the point where some people are willing to take the risk (and reap the rewards). Meanwhile, these barriers to the supply chain get pretty sophisticated. Thus, those who would overcome the barriers must become more sophisticated, i.e., more organized. In this way, prohibition creates organized crime (for those non-history buffs out there, this is precisely how the Mafia became so powerful in the U.S. during the dry years from 1920 to 1933). Furthermore, the huge profit margins associated with drug running fund other criminal activities, not to mention expert legal defenses.
In sum, prohibition does not stop drug use but it does provide the impetus and financial basis for organized crime.
By Libertarianism, in this context, I mean legalizing all drugs. In the language of our drug framework, this approach holds sacred the ‘right to choose’ and ignores either the individual’s responsibility not to cause harm to others or the unfortunate reality that use of and addiction to various drugs causes harm to people besides the user or addict, depending on which libertarian you ask.
This is the approach taken by The Netherlands (more or less). On the upside, rates of drug use in The Netherlands are not significantly higher than in Western Europe overall (probably because prohibition doesn’t work, as we’ve already seen). However, this approach has three major problems. Firstly, and most obviously, it does not address social problems linked to drug use. Second, The Netherlands effectively created a safe haven for drug distribution organizations, making The Netherlands a major drug producer and transit center. In other words, the mob moved in. Third, and most subtly, many people continue to slip into life-destroying drug addiction.
Some people argue that a drug addict’s life isn’t “destroyed,” s/he has just chosen a lifestyle that seems strange to us: perhaps an antisocial existence, supported by petty crime and characterized by violent mood swings and mental depravity. Have you ever seen or talked to a crack addict between fixes? “Alternative lifestyle” my ass.
This brings me to a complex point so please bare with me (this goes double for the Ron Paul Mafia who desperately need to get their heads around this idea). The prominence of ‘the right to choose’ is based on a flawed ideal of human cognition. I, for one, think people should have the liberty to decide how they live their own lives. However, said liberty cannot be implemented by simply removing constraints (i.e. the laws against drug use). For a person to have the liberty to choose among alternatives, s/he must have sufficient information regarding the risks and benefits of each alternative and sufficient mental faculties to understand and process those risks and benefits. In a society where children (and adults) are brainwashed, poorly educated, and devoid of critical thinking skills, many lack the liberty to choose, even if society grants them the right to choose. Some legal document granting you the right to do something doesn’t mean you have the slightest clue whether or how to do it. Furthermore, humans are social beings and, especially in youth, are vulnerable to peer pressure and low self-esteem. Many children are incapable of making a sound decisian at precisely the age when they are most likely to get hooked on drugs. How many people do you know who started smoking at 14 and swear they never should have started because now they can’t quit?
This is an often-misunderstood, fundamental point: it is impossible to grant the freedom to choose whether or not to use a drug simply by legalizing it.
Many societies attempt to educate children about the dangers of drugs. The idea is that if the populace is aware of the dangers, they won’t partake in the drugs. Note the hidden bias: ‘the dangers of drugs.’ Drug education, as it is normally practiced, is a politically motivated manipulation intended to produce a taboo. It’s attempted brainwashing. It is not giving people the tools they need to make an educated decision. Do you think junior high students have debates about whether it is reasonable to give crack-cocaine to terminally-ill patients as death approaches? How about an honest treatment of the benefits of amphetamines? Not, that I’ve heard of. To decide whether indulging in a drug is worth the risk, a person needs unbiased information, the critical thinking skills to evaluate that information, and the self confidence to make the decision regardless of what some transient social circle thinks. None of these things are high on the priority list of the education systems I’m familiar with.
I am not claiming that education, in principle, is ineffective. I am claiming that “drug education” is a euphemism for an incompetent, politicized, horribly biased, farcical attempt at brainwashing our children. And because more dangerous socially acceptable drugs are tolerated while less dangerous, taboo drugs are not, the whole exercise ignores the right to choose entirely. Bullshit is not lying but a message conveyed regardless of truth.
I am not aware of any education system that provides the necessary skills and knowledge discussed above. If you know of one, please bring it up in the comments.
4. The In-Your-Own-Home Strategy
The number of countries that ban smoking in public places — in bars, restaurants, hotels, beaches, parks, etc. — is growing steadily. This is an approach that recognizes the responsibility not to harm others and the inevitability of harm to others from smoking in public places. It’s only a matter of time before some country bans smoking anywhere outdoors. In fact, I remember reading some report years ago that said Canada’s drug policy was moving toward a situation where citizens are free to do whatever they like, but only in the privacy of their own homes.
This sounds pretty good, unless you actually think about it. If tobacco addicts can only smoke in their homes, they surely will. Guess who else is in their homes? Their kids, that’s who. So to avoid poisoning the general public, society has created a situation in which the addict must kick the habit or poison their children. And it’s not just smoking – this same scheme might well apply to all drugs. It’s one thing to know daddy’s got a drug problem, it’s something quite different to sit on the couch with daddy while he shoots up. Don’t think it can happen? You ever meet a kid who knows mommy’s like Players and daddy like Camels? Extrapolate. Many addicts will choose to poison their children rather than quit.
This strategy doesn’t solve the drug problem, it just concentrates the victims: now they’re mostly children.
5. The Marijuana Party Approach
In Canada, the Marijuana Party is a political party that bases its platform on legalizing its namesake. The primary argument here is denying that marijuana is dangerous. In the language of my framework, they are denying that use of this particular drug causes harm to themselves or others. This is not a viable strategy for Cannabis or drugs in general. First, even if Cannabis is relatively safe, plenty of other drugs are not. Second, whether or not weed hurts its users, it still interferes with the lives of others. I don’t want to walk through clouds of smoke wherever I go. Whether or not it will kill me, marijuana smoke still smells like post-coital sweat from a fat man’s ass. If the look of something offends you, you can just choose not to look at it, but if the smell of something bothers you, you cannot choose not to smell it. Third, even if there is no conclusive evidence that marijuana is hazardous to adults, we still don’t know what it does to children, and legalization does nothing to protect the children.
Thus, while I admit that the weed party may have a point on decriminalization and maybe even legalization, they don’t have anything approaching a comprehensive plan. I mean, just look at this — whining about jurisdiction is not a proposed solution!
This concludes my discussion of existing approaches to solving the drug problem. Did I miss any? Please bring it up in the comments.