Another Tiny Glimpse into Our Crazy War on Drugs
Representative Trey Radel (R-FL) pleaded guilty this morning to cocaine possession. As Radel recently voted to drug test all food stamp recipients, the temptation is strong simply to smile and declare that it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
That would be wrong, not only because tu quoque is wrong, but because two wrongs don’t make a right.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: One of the most accurate class status markers in America is whether or not a superior can demand that you pee in a cup. Drug tests are for little people. So are strip searches. So are involuntary colonoscopies, if and when it comes to that.
These measures are not, of course, for members of the House of Representatives, who are busted in the nicest possible way, in unnamed but probably quite posh restaurants in Dupont Circle. There are certainly quite a few.
Radel was sentenced to one year of probation for possession of 3.5 grams of cocaine. This places him on the low end of the sentencing guidelines, which suggest that a crime of approximately this magnitude should receive “zero to twenty years.”
Ponder that for a moment. Our law contemplates, and would not frown upon, someone quite like the Honorable Mr. Radel receiving twenty years behind bars. Yes, there should be some room for discretion in any sentencing regime. But this much? And deployed just so? One is tempted to suggest that the crafters of the laws be held to higher standards, and at any rate certainly not to lower. But again with the two wrongs not making a right.
If you want my opinion – and you probably don’t – no one should go to prison for cocaine. There are a variety of ways that we could achieve this; the most plausible may be the prescription model. Don’t laugh. We’ve already done it with amphetamines, which are marketed to the respectable classes legally, by way of their entirely compliant doctors, under the name Adderall (Motto: It’s. Just. Speed.). Calling it “Adderall” removes the stigma, I suppose, and it keeps ignorant parents from worrying about their suspiciously functional progeny.
Now. We can talk about whether doctors should be so compliant, and we can talk about the problems of abuse once the prescription is written. And we should definitely have those conversations. But the fact remains that for good old-fashioned speed, there just isn’t much of a crime syndicate involved in pushing the stuff. Contrast this with the methylated stuff, and you begin to get an idea of how civilizing the whole process can be. Civilization, I suggest, is the largest part of the difference.
Prescriptionizing cocaine might be a harder sell, but then again, maybe not. Cocaine is a Schedule II drug, just like amphetamine (Motto: It’s. Just. Adderall.) – so the legality, if not the optics, should work out okay. Raw coca is grocery-store legal in many parts of South America. Coming up with a plausible therapeutic use might be a wee bit harder, but then again, isn’t harm reduction itself a good enough goal?
The longer one looks at it, the more it appears that drugs aren’t something that one does; drugs are a thing we do to each other – a regime of discipline that we inflict, or not, not based on harm, or on prudence, or on costs and benefits. But based, for all I can tell, on who holds the power. Things ought not to be this way, and they don’t have to be this way, but they are.