A 4/20 Reminder
Considered as a whole, the War on Drugs is the single worst violation of liberty perpetrated by our government. Nothing else even comes close.
The War on Drugs imprisons hundreds of thousands for no greater crime than owning a chemical or an herb. It breaks up families. It ends educations. It ends careers. It poisons. It incites murder. It makes citizens mistrust one another and mistrust the police. It robs us all of our dignity, even if we don’t use drugs. It turns the Fourth Amendment into nothing more than a pious fiction.
Now, one might say, legalized drugs would still do many of the same harmful things, at least on the individual scale, and this is certainly true. No one can make drugs un-dangerous. But criminalization adds to the dangers in all sorts of ways. It means mis-labeled and adulterated products, which would both be rare and prosecutable under legalization. Criminalization means giving the most violent and criminal elements of society power, influence, and money.
Criminalization means that ordinary citizens have no recourse to the courts when they have a problem with their drug suppliers, and this makes many people turn to violence when otherwise they never would. Courts are the way we ritualize, regularize, and tame violence, using it only as a last resort. They are how we put it in the service of fair play. But this powerful instrument of fair play never reaches the drug market. Instead, we’ve cordoned off a whole market and declared that here, the very best cheaters win.
You say that users are only in the market because they are addicts? Perhaps they are. But the War on Drugs discourages addicts from getting treatment. It does this by branding them criminals. If we take seriously the idea that drug addiction is a disease, then we must admit that it stands utterly alone among diseases: We do not imprison people with cancer or AIDS. We don’t even imprison alcoholics. We allow them to get medical treatment.
Drug addicts have it worse than biblical lepers. Their situation is all the more deplorable, because unlike leprosy in the ancient world, drug addiction is both treatable and non-contagious. If I were a Christian, and if I were inclined to look for the Second Coming, I would volunteer at a drug addiction clinic. That’s where Jesus probably works.
Now, I’m not a Christian, but I am a taxpayer, and the War on Drugs costs billions of taxpayer dollars. It damages our relations with foreign countries. It funds terrorism. It forms the institutional structure of what is, in effect, a race war. Drug laws are unevenly enforced, drug sentencing varies significantly by race, and demographic realities mean that drug policing is going to concentrate in the inner cities, where more minorities live. Even if it were a race war of no one’s choosing, it would still be a race war. (Hate that term “war” here? Don’t blame me. I didn’t coin it.) If you want to know why even today such socioeconomic disparities exist among the races, you should start with the War on Drugs.
The most depressing part is that nothing in the above is even remotely news. It was true last April 20, and it will in all likelihood remain true next April 20. These are overwhelmingly self-inflicted wounds. Why, Americans, do we do this to ourselves? And why does pointing it out have so little effect?