The Eclectic One

…Because labels are a poor substitute for thinking

Drug-war stupidity

Posted by Bill Nance on December 11, 2008

Mark Kleiman has some thoughts on the drug-war he posted a couple of days ago that really typify the mentality that government needs to be involved in protecting us from ourselves and that high taxes and restrictions are the way to do it. He appropriately blasts Anti-Drug-Boss John Walters, but in the same breath goes on to talk about how Mommy Government should be keeping us all safe and warm.

I like Kleiman. He’s a very bright guy and God knows we’re in agreement on the Prison Industrial Complex’s corroding effects on society. But he’s just so far out with this post I have to comment.

The Juice:

Walters (Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy) still doesn’t know the difference between drug use and drug abuse; he appears to be blissfully unworried about drug-related violence here or in Mexico (where it’s now bordering on civil war) or the contribution of our insistence on spraying poppy crops to the al-Qaeda resurgence in Afghanistan; he still doesn’t think HIV is worth a mention; and of course more than a million drug arrests per year and half a million drug offenders in prison are just peachy-keen, as long as fewer kids are smoking pot or trying MDMA or LSD. Walters thinks methamphetamine use has “collapsed.” With unerring accuracy, he praises futile and trivial anti-drug efforts while ignoring the genuine progress being made in breaking up street drug markets and forcing probationers to quit.

And of course Walters cites the alcohol problem as a reason not to change policies on any of the currently illicit drugs, without ever hinting that there are simple policy changes (higher taxes, restrictions on sales to drunk drivers and drunken assailants) that could actually do something about alcohol, the drug which accounts for more than 80% of the victims of substance abuse disorders: proof positive that Walters and his buddies are more interested in fighting the culture wars than in reducing the prevalence of substance abuse. (emphasis mine).

So let me get this straight Mark, you think we should have background checks at liquor stores? Seriously? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Honestly, I can’t believe you actually wrote that.

How about we do something really simple: Stop involving the government in totally private, non-destructive behaviors by trying to use the tax code or coercion by force to enforce compliance with someone else’s idea of “what’s best for us.”

How about we put people in jail who commit crimes and not let them out until they’ve served a long enough sentence to be considered no longer dangerous, and then leave them the Hell alone instead of tattooing a “criminal” label on their foreheads for the rest of their lives. If they’re dangerous, what the f*** are they doing out on the street? And if they aren’t, why do we continue to hassle them? They paid their debt to society, leave ’em alone already.

Drug use by itself is of at most, marginally problematic from a social perspective. Does it cause problems? Sure. Are they so horrendous we need government to interfere with the mere use? HELL NO.  There are such things which are massively socially destructive. Like say, 15 MPG cars that cause us to get in wars due to dependence on oil. Tax THAT. Some crack monkey smacking his wife because he’s wacked out is not remotely on that level of destructiveness. Put him in jail for using his wife as a punching bag, otherwise leave him alone to his vices. Higher taxes encourage crime to avoid taxes. This is exactly the problem with governments trying to play Mommy. They tax or ban something to solve a marginal social problem and the solution begets problems far worse than the one they intend to solve. Unless you think massive organized crime organizations whose major source of money are banned/taxed substances are no big deal I guess.

Restrict it to adults. Put enough taxes on the stuff to pay for lots of rehabs and massive anti-drug advertising. Ban advertising and brand-names on the drugs.

And then prosecute people who commit crimes.

The use of the drugs isn’t the problem. It’s the very small percentage of people who, having cheap and easy access to drugs, will commit crimes. These are the people who belong in jail. Blaming the drugs for the crimes of people who are responsible for their own behavior is a cop-out,  just as blaming booze for drunk-driving doesn’t wash.

This is a simple freedom issue. When people get tired of living in a police-state they will do something about it. Until then, there will be gradual and incremental de-criminalization. But de-criminalization isn’t the goal. It’s just a step in the right direction.

De-criminalization of drug use won’t stop addicts from needing to break into your house because they have to pay 100 times the actual cost of a product merely because of the fact it’s illegal. De-criminalization of use won’t stop the DEA from it’s Gestapo tactics or the continual abridgment of our fourth amendment rights. And de-criminalization of use won’t  stop all that drug money from going to the most ruthless and evil criminals and terrorist organizations in the world.

The one and only way you effectively deal with the drug “problem,” is complete legalization, restricted to adults only, with appropriate draconian penalties for sale to minors. Fund the rehabs, advertise the problems with using drugs. It’s worked quite well with cigarettes. But do not compromise the essential issue of personal freedom.

If I want to snort cocaine until my nasal passages are jelly and my brain is mush, that’s my business and no one else’s. Until I do harm to you or your property, it’s none of your damned business. To pretend anything else is making a deal with the devil.

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2 Responses to “Drug-war stupidity”

  1. Meanwhile, back in primary reality, 30,000 Americans a year die as the result of other people’s drinking: via highway and other accidents and homicides. If you can make an argument for allowing people who have been convicted of drunken driving or drunken assault to keep drinking, I’d love to hear it. You’re not going to keep them in prison forever, and they’ve already shown they can’t be deterred from threatening other people once they’re drunk. As to “background checks”: it’s called “being carded.” Really, not so complicated.

    As to “blaming” the substance or the user: who gives a rat’s ass about “blame”? I just want to stop the bleeding.

  2. Bill Nance said

    Thanks for the comment Mark. I have a lot of respect for you, but on this one I think you’re flat wrong.

    As you’re well aware, we don’t prosecute people for DUI with any serious consequences until they kill or seriously hurt someone. I view driving while intoxicated as a violent crime, and one worthy of substantial penalties -not just losing a driver’s license and fine. 90 days in the clink on the first offense, a year on the second and 5+ on the third seems a reasonable approach. This is real crime and these folks need to be locked up. Not because they drink, because they’re committing serious, dangerous crimes. The booze is a side-issue, not the real cause for needing to put these folks in jail.
    I know plenty of alcoholics, here and in Europe, who don’t drive after drinking. It happens here with far more frequency because the penalties are fairly light. It’s one of the few crimes where deterrence really works. It is not necesary to drive because you’ve had some drinks, so serious consequences will deter almost anyone who frankly isn’t a menace in the first place.

    As for “allowing” alcoholics to drink or not, um, Mark, prohibition? We’ve tried that. You know it doesn’t work. You’re just proposing Prohibition “lite,” and pretending that it will work better than what we’ve already got.

    You will never, not in a million years, stop an addict to any substance from obtaining it. You won’t even “deter” them beyond simple inconvenience. You know this. So the whole idea of “carding, background checking, whatever you care to call it, is inherently doomed before you start it. It works with children -Sort of. It will not ever work with adults who have money or can get it.

    Homicides? That’s the fault of the booze? I think not. Seriously Mark, you’re a very bright and well-informed guy. I can’t believe that adding booze suddenly makes a non-violent person into a homicidal one, and I don’t think you do either. Booze/drugs are an exacerbating factor, not a causal one. Since you can’t effectively ban it and restrictions other than those on lawful sellers are totally ineffective, why hassle 95% of the population because of the misdeeds of the few, the vast majority of which have relatively mild social consequences?

    Background checks: To quote you: “restrictions on sales to drunk drivers and drunken assailants.” How do you think that’s going to happen without a background check? Unless you propose to tattoo “don’t sell me booze” on their foreheads. At the very least you’d need all ID’s/driver’s licenses to be stamped with a special “not to buy booze” tag, and then you think an adult is going to have the slightest trouble buying booze? You’re just going to have to have “straw sales” of booze and encourage people happy to break the law for some easy money selling booze to people who aren’t supposed to have it.

    I’m all for stopping the bleeding. But frankly freedom means a certain amount of bleeding. Life isn’t risk free and the government can’t make it so. God knows if the ATF can’t pull it off, the proposal you made in that post won’t.

    I’ve lost close relatives and friends to drunk drivers, so I’m well aware of the consequences. But if you think a few government regulations, other than imprisonment or risk of it for behaviors other than just imbibing substances, are going to change those consequences, I think you’re engaged in wishful thinking.

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