DEALING IN DEATH
If we honored our neighbor's choice, the people now enforcing
the minimum wage and licensing laws would be available to go after the real
criminals. In 1987, drug offenders made up 36% of the federal prison population.
(1) As the War on Drugs escalates, more of our law enforcement dollar will
be spent on drug-related crimes and less on rapists, murderers, and thieves.
Is this the best way to deal with the drug problem?
In the early 1900s, many people supported aggression through-government to stop the consumption of alcoholic beverages. As we all know, Prohibition was tried, but it just didn't work. People still drank, but they had to settle for home-brews, which were not always safe. Some people even died from drinking them. (2) Since business people could no longer sell alcohol, organized crime did. Turf battles killed innocent bystanders, and law enforcement officials found they could make more money taking bribes than jailing the bootleggers. Aggression was ineffective - and expensive, both in terms of dollars and lives.
When Prohibition was repealed, people bought their alcohol
from professional brewers instead of criminals. As a result, they stopped
dying from bathtub gin. The turf fighting subsided, since there was no turf
to fight about. The murder and assault rate that had skyrocketed during
Prohibition fell steadily after its repeal. (3)
For example, approximately 80% of the 7,000 deaths attributed to drug overdose would probably not have occurred if the recreational drugs had been marketed legally. (11) Legal drugs are tested for safety, while street drugs are sold even when they are highly toxic. They are frequently cut with other substances, such as quinine, caffeine, and amphetamines, which makes them even more dangerous. The user seldom knows how much drug is actually being administered, making overdose - death - much more likely. Once again, prohibition puts more people at risk.
Street drugs are 100 times more expensive than their legal counterparts. (12) The safer oral route is shunned by drug users, because much more drug is needed to get the desired effects. Instead, users take the expensive drugs intravenously, sometimes producing fatally high blood levels. When users get in trouble, they delay seeking medical help for fear of arrest. The basketball player Len Bias had three seizures before his friends finally called the medics. By then, it was too late. (13)
If the estimate is correct that 80% of drug overdose deaths are needless, the true U.S. death toll caused by the inherent toxicity of recreational drugs would be closer to 1400 per year. In Amsterdam, where the drug user is not criminalized, there are only 60 drug-induced deaths per year, in a population 20 times smaller than that of the United States. (6) Thus, the estimate of an 80% overkill caused by drug prohibition appears to be very close.
In addition, prohibition causes some indirect deaths. Each year, approximately 3,500 drug users contract AIDS from sharing nee-dles. (14) In Hong Kong, where needles can be bought without a prescription, AIDS is not spread by contaminated needles. (15)
Approximately 750 people are killed annually during black market turf fighting. (16) Each year 1,600 innocent individuals are killed while being robbed by users. (16) These robberyrelated deaths would be unlikely if recreational substances could be sold legally, just as alcohol is. How many alcoholics need to steal to support their habit?
More than 11,000 people die each year because we succumb to the temptation to use aggression to control others. If we honored our neighbor's choice, fewer people would die each year, unless drug use increased eightfold. Given the current estimates of drug use, almost the entire U.S. population would have to take drugs for this level to be reached. The War on Drugs kill more people than the drugs themselves!
Who profits from these deaths? The money goes directly to the people in organized crime, just as it did during Prohibition. Our Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) sometimes protects and aids these people to get information or to pay for activities that Congress won't fund! (17) Our eagerness to control our neighbors creates and sustains those with motives more sinister than just getting high!
Our own choices are compromised when we refuse to honor the choices of others. Recent changes in our laws allow the police to confiscate the property of presumed drug dealers before they are proven guilty. (18) In the Pittsburgh Press' 10-month study of such confiscations, 80% of the people subjected to seizure were never even charged with a crime! (19) A vindictive neighbor could falsely accuse us of drug trafficking, and we could lose everything even though we were innocent. Our desire to control our neighbors gives them power over us. We create a world that sustains the Mafia, unauthorized CIA projects, punishment without a trial, and false accusations.
How much of the drug traffic do we stop after paying this
enormous price? Estimates suggest that only 10% of the street drugs are
interdicted before sale.20 Clearly, our aggression hasn't solved the problem
- it simply has created a more deadly one!
To get drugs out of our schools, we need to take aggression out of our legal code. The excessive profit that comes from prohibitive licensing would not exist in the self-regulating marketplace ecosystem. Alcohol and cigarettes, which are illegal for minors, are less of a problem because they are less profitable.
If recreational drugs were legal, their medicinal properties could be more easily studied and employed. Today, red tape discourages physicians from giving marijuana to their patients, even though it can slow the progress of glaucoma, keep cancer patients from being nauseated by chemotherapy, and help treat multiple sclerosis. (23) Until it became illegal, marijuana was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia for some of these purposes. (24)
Instead, our enforcement agents seized the marijuana plants of a retired postal worker suffering from cancer. Robert Brewser had used them to control the pain and nausea from his radiation therapy. The agents also took - without trial- the van his wife used to take him to the hospital for treatment! (19). How much universal love do we show our neighbors when we support laws that make this possible?
Without the aggression of prohibitive licensing, scientists would study how they work and find out why people take them. The money now spent on aggression could be directed toward education and research. We would have a thece at really winning the war on drugs, just as we are now winning the war on alcohol, not by Prohibition, but by the only method that really works - convincing people that drug abuse is not in their best interest.
For the most part, drug abusers hurt only themselves. If they threaten to harm others, they should be held responsible for their actions.
Cravings for illegal recreational drugs may have both physiological and emotional components. Alcoholism is a disease. Dependence on drugs is a medical problem as well. People who are willing to sacrifice their health, wealth, and social standing for chemical highs require our help, not our condemnation, especially when we may inadvertently contributed to their distress.
Aggression-through-government sets the stage for drug problems. When we discriminate against disadvantaged workers through minimum wage and licensing laws, we frustrate their economic goals. Getting high is certainly more attractive when other parts of one's life don't seem to be working. Selling drugs certainly seems like a lucrative career for a ghetto youth banned from legitimate paths of creating wealth. In addition to the other deleterious effects of licensing laws, they may well contribute to the drug problem.
Drug prohibition is counterproductive. We resist this conclusion, however, because we want to control other people's choices. Some people will indeed make what we consider to be poor choices for themselves. People who overeat, drink heavily, or engage in dangerous activities may prefer a shorter, more exciting, and intense life to a longer one with different rewards. They may prefer gratification over longevity. It is their life and their choice - if only we would honor it.
We cannot protect people from themselves. When we honor their choice of food, drink, drugs, or activities, we free our police to focus on individuals who would directly and purposefully harm us through force, theft, or fraud. When we stop trying to control others, we can more readily prevent aggressors from controlling us, as described in the following chapter.
Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in search after his own happiness. In vices, the very essence of crime-that is, the design to injure the person or property of another-is wanting.
- Lysander Spooner
The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be... Try to make people moral, and you lay the groundwork for vice.
- Lao-tsu, TAO TE CHING
Prohibition ended in 1933 because the nation's most influential people, as well as the general public, acknowledged that it had failed. It had increased lawlessness and drinking and aggravated alcohol abuse.
- Thomas M. Coffey, author of THE LONG THIRST-PROHIBITION IN AMERICA: 1920-1933
If the government cannot stop people from using drugs in the prisons over which it has total control, why should Americans forfeit any of their traditional civil rights in the hope of reducing the drug problem?
- Inmate, Federal Correctional Institution, El Reno, Oklahoma, Time Magazine, October 16, 1989
Elvy Musikka... was arrested last month for possession of 4 marijuana plants. "I can't think of any crime that should be punished by blindness," Elvy said.... Doctors at Bascome Palmer Eye Clinic in Miami have said that without marijuana, her glaucoma is getting worse.
- On The Freedom Trail, May 1988
If even a small fraction of the money we now spend on trying to enforce drug prohibition were devoted to treatment and drug rehabilitation, in an atmosphere of compassion not punishment, the reduction in drug usage and in the harm done to users could be dramatic.
- Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize winner, Economics
The real question is why are millions of people so unhappy, so bored, so unfulfilled, that they are willing to drink, snort, inject or inhale any substance that might blot out reality and give them a bit of temporary relief.<ÿÿÿÿT>
- Ann Landers, syndicated columnist