Don't Bogart that Joint
Froma Harp, who I agree with on many issues, has a great opinion column on this topic. She visited the border towns of Mexico and saw the devastation that recent drug turf battles have raught. She goes a little too far and blames all the other problems of kidnappings, murders, and disappearances on drugs. In reality these problems owe more to the economic stranglehold the oligarchy of Mexico has on the country, which perpetuates mass poverty for the benefit of a small number of families. But, she’s right that because the country already lacks economic opportunity for most of its population, the drug trade is too lucrative to stop.
So, what are we to do? $70 billion per year in our “war on drugs” has little effect. Yes, the occasional drug entrepreneur is jailed. More often, though, we jail our own kids and others who are either small time dealers, recreational users who got unlucky, or addicts. This is just for the drugs that are considered illegal in any context. Even “legal” drugs produced by Purdue Pharmaceuticals are lucrative enough in the black market to put the children of Republican state senators in jail. And, President Bush has admitted to past marijuana use in addition to his drinking problem; by todays War on Drug standards, he would have spent time in jail if he had been caught (and his pop couldn't pull some strings). Meanwhile, the drug trade continues unabated.
None of this is logical. Those from the hard right make this into a moral issue. Their reasoning, when there is any reason expressed, seems to be that since drugs are immoral, it would be immoral not to wage war against them, regardless of whether that war has had or ever will have success. Collateral damage is irrelevant. Too often, politicians across the political spectrum go along with this, even fall over themselves to appear anti-drug, out of fear that they will be labeled with the L word.
While I don’t think it is a good idea to legalize hard drugs, like heroin or cocaine, certainly marijuana is harmless enough that it could be legal and managed no differently than alcohol is today. In fact, federal and state governments already have the regulatory bodies, legal framework, and enforcement apparatus created to manage the ills of drinking that could be leveraged to do the same for marijuana. The “gateway” theory usually used as an argument against legalizing marijuana is spurious; it’s the environment in which marijuana is found, precisely because it is illegal, that creates the gateway. As with so many other things government does, the “cure” is worse than the sickness.
So, if we keep the hard dope illegal, does that mean that we need to wage war against it? I don’t think so. It seems much more consistent from a moral point of view to focus on helping those that are suffering from drug abuse. $70 billion spent on communities could do an enormous amount of good. Perhaps even better, the price of drugs would drop precipitously, the corrupting influence of its money would decline, and the focus of blame in countries like Mexico would go to where it belongs – the ruling oligarchy.
Seattle made a small step in this direction by mandating that police focus their effort and resources on other types of crime. This is one of the rare examples in which we actually lead, thanks to the enlightened citizenry that approved I-75. It passed, and more than a year later, the sky has not fallen.