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  Some Leaks in the Prohibitionist Dike
by J. Wroblewski
February 2003

Some alternative arguments against the War on Drugs.

Those who support the continuing War on Drugs feel themselves well fortified in both moral and logical arguments that leave them, and the budding narco-Fascist state that does their bidding, above reproach. Well, their front line arguments from morality fall flat after short examination. We do not have to legally prohibit every activity we find offensive or even icky, and the simple lack of legal prohibition against an activity does not mean whole hearted endorsement of it. The “we must send a message” argument behind Prohibition is worthy of the Taliban, not a modern civilized state. But there are other arguments raised by the Drug War cheerleaders that have at least the patina of logic, and deserve closer examination.

I.) “We’ll all become junkies!”- Free controlled substances from the iron grip of the law, they say, and mass addiction will sweep the nation. This is the sort of phantasm that costs Orin Hatch a lot of sleep, no doubt. The only small nugget of faint truth in this is that legalization will unleash a (likely) small stampede of curious fools eager to experiment with formerly forbidden fruit. A painful learning curve will ensue, after which fewer fools will rush in. But there is a good argument to be made for the concept of the addictive personality, a proportion of the population that will be drawn to inebriating substances of any type legal or verboten. There could well be some shift in “brand loyalties” with legalization, but the Dope Fiend America nightmare were every second person is the Man With The Golden Arm is as unlikely as a plague of goblins. And please, do remember what happen when our present forbidden drugs ran head to head with King Alcohol in the Nineteen Century. As memory serves some addiction to opiates and cocaine existed, but without the vast criminal activity associated with it today. Alcohol, by contrast, was widely abused, and centered in much crime, domestic violence, and social disruption generally.

II.) “Antisocial behavior will run rampant”- as if the grandfathered drug of inebriation, alcohol, hasn’t been a widespread source of same (see above)! It is true that sometimes illicit drugs cause some (certainly not all) of their users to become a nuisance or even threat when high. But why not focus on that group for their antisocial actions, rather than indulge in fascist hysterias over the mere presence of certain white powders. While we’re at it why not tighten the legal loopholes that may allow someone to escape punishment for their crimes due to diminished responsibility while stoned? This would treat a broader legal cancer in the process. Certainly the Law’s power to commit the helplessly insane for therapy should be extended more broadly to those who are truly out of control and nonfunctional due to severe drug addiction. Surely someone in those depths is as helpless and as much in need of commitment as the untreated schizophrenic. Again, focus on the truly guilty or truly needy, not a wide swath of essentially harmless people.

III.) “The Medical consequences will be a catastrophe”- Again (as we so often must) let’s point out that our legal fixes of tobacco and alcohol have the power of addiction and body harm that easily overlap into the territory of our presently banned drugs. We will hardly be entering new territory, and quite likely with the same group of people who are drawn to our legal dope. There is a good argument that when lifted from the dark of illegality drug use is more likely to become safer, with greater exposure to public health measures and a shift away from the chemically concentrated “hard drugs” so adapted for life in the shadows.

At the beginning of this piece I mocked the moral pretensions of the Drug War, but only its shallowest and most public manifestations. If they decry the drug problem as a moral failing of modern life, they are to some degree right. It is truly shameful that dangerous indulgence in potent chemicals was ever given the air of being chic and glamorous, for that must have helped in its spread. I guess that my Sixties generation has a lot to answer for on that one. But still, the prohibitionists hardly cover themselves with glory when they run toward brute repression as a substitute for true moral education. In its way that is as empty a response as chemical hedonism.

Everything considered, the Drug War does not rest on an ironclad body of argument. On the contrary it totters in the wind. And as I believe Neitzche once said, that which is falling one must also push.