What we Prohibit We Cannot Control: Restriction Before Education?
There is a definite problem regarding the laws that enforce drug use in the United States today. Think about this question. Why are some of the most injurious, addictive, and mind altering substances in the world–tobacco and alcohol–legal, while other drugs are illegal that potentially cause no harm and have very little abuse?
The United States has declared 178 substances illegal. These substances are believed to be so dangerous that they are controlled at the highest level for medical use or forbidden outright, even for medical research. Remarkably many of these substances are not physically harmful and have never caused a death. Every year, legal drug use results in about fifteen percent of all hospital admissions, with one hundred thirty six billion dollars in medical costs. It seems odd, then, to make such a big distinction between legal and illegal drugs regarding the law.
A startling fact, Congressman Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House, proposed legislation that would impose the death penalty for people caught carrying as little as two ounces of marijuana. He excused his own past marijuana use by explaining that pot smoking “was a sign that we were alive and in graduate school in that era.” Prison sentences for being caught with a large amount of marijuana are ten years, mandatory minimum, with no parole allowed. A prison sentence for murder six point three years. That is the average served, with parole allowed. The average sentence for a first time, non-violent drug offender is longer than for rape, child molestation, bank robbery, or manslaughter.(Gahlinger 2) This is an appalling statistic. The government is enforcing harsher punishment on a marijuana smoker compared to a murderer!
The government is filling prisons with drug offenders that will not learn anything while there. Most likely when their term in prison is over they will go back to the same thing that they were doing before they went in to the system. Billions of tax payer dollars are keeping these drug offenders behind bars when a drug treatment program could be helping them to correct current addictive behavior and how to curtail their thoughts and actions to a more positive lifestyle. While the government puts one drug offender away another one is ready to step up to the plate and replace him or her. This is a never ending cycle. “Why do we not speak of ski abuse or a chain saw problem? Because we expect people to familiarize themselves with their use, and avoid injuring themselves or others”–Thomas Szasz, Our Right to Drugs 1992. This statement is true regarding drugs.
The War on Drugs has been a failure. Drug supply interdiction and the imprisonment of over one million Americans have not been effective in reducing drug use. Drugs can cause a lot of harm in foolish hands, but this does not mean that they have no use or should be made illegal. Clearly drugs have a potential for both great benefit and great harm. The best solution to the drug problem begins with education not restriction. As President John F. Kennedy so plainly put it, “It should be our earnest intention to insure that drugs not be employed to debase mankind but to serve it.”
Everybody that I know that has been in trouble with the police for a drug offense often gets put on probation and has a set guidelines that they have to follow through with or a more harsh punishment will be set forth. My point is, people do not like to be told what to do so in essence the laws imposed on drug offenders make them even more upset with the way the government rules are set forth and so they rebel, causing even more problems with law enforcement. Not to imply, let the neighborhood drug dealer supply your loved ones with meth or heroin. Instead let the government regulate the drug trade and have more programs focused on the education and not punishment.
Right now drugs are looked at like a forbidden fruit not meant to be tried unless you are ready to face the consequences, but why are they looked at in this way? Some drugs are illeagal largely for historical or political reasons and there is little or no evidence of their abuse or of any use at all. Peyote for example, has no history of significant abuse, and igobaine is virtually unknown in the United States. The government should regulate sales on some of these drugs and place a tax on them to eliminate the organized crime element of illegal drug sales. The United States is afraid that regulating drugs will cause a sharp rise in drug use and abuse, however their are no statistics stating that this is true.
United Nations agencies estimate the annual revenue generated by the illegal drug industry to be at over four-hundred billion dollars, or roughly eight percent of the total international trade. This industry has empowered organized criminals, corrupted governments at all levels, eroded internal security, stimulated violence, and distorted both economic markets and moral values. These are the consequences not of drug use per se, but decades of failed and futile drug war policies. The harsh restriction of drugs have failed to control their use in the United States. Let us begin with education over restriction.
Gahlinger, Paul. Illegal Drugs: A Complete Guide to Their History, Chemistry, Use and Abuse. New York: Plume, 2004.