End the War on Drugs
The following is a transcript of a speech I gave in college. I made this speech at the end of the Summer semester of 2011.
Raise your hand if you know that eating greasy fast food all the time is unhealthy. Ok, good. Now, raise your hand if you believe that people who buy fast food should be sent to jail if they are caught buying fast food. Today, I’ll try to persuade you that we need to put an end to the prohibition of drug use in this country. First of all, we could better protect ourselves and our children from drug-related harm if we legalized drugs. Second, we are paying enormous costs for our current drug policies, which aren’t even working. And third, drug prohibition is a violation of our personal liberty.
Education, Regulation, & Rehabilitation
To begin with, if we legalized drugs, we could better defend ourselves against drug-related harm in three ways. First, we need real drug education, not one-sided propaganda.TV commercials depict pot smokers as irresponsible, unproductive members of society, ignoring the fact that many pot smokers graduate college with good grades, become business owners, professionals, talented writers, and even award-winning athletes. Slogans like “Just say no” disregard the fact that many of us, at some point in our lives, will say “yes”, and they fail to provide any further guidance for us beyond that point.
Second, we need effective drug regulation. For example, drug dealers today are all criminals, and most will gladly sell drugs to children. Why not? It is a violent, untamed market. And did you know that currently, many people prefer to use drugs, rather than drink alcohol, if they know they will have to drive somewhere afterward? This is because if a police officer suspects you of driving under the influence, you will be offered a breathalyzer test, which detects alcohol, but not marijuana, valium, or any other drug. So driving under the influence of drugs now seems like a legally safe alternative to driving drunk. But imagine if drugs were legalized. The criminals who now sell drugs to children would go out of business, unable to compete with the low prices and product quality of legal distribution channels, like Wal-Mart, for example. Stores would refuse to sell to minors like they currently refuse to sell alcohol to minors. All drugs would be properly labeled, with health warnings on every package. There could be laws requiring consumers of certain drugs to sign a prior consent to submit to a blood test if they are thought to be driving while intoxicated. Unlike a breathalyzer test, a blood test will detect the presence of drugs, so driving under the influence of drugs would no longer keep one safe from the law as it does now. We could also require that drug users be licensed, by taking classes and passing tests. For example, before a person could buy Marijuana, they would have to pass a class on Marijuana and carry a “marijuana license” with them.
Third, quality drug rehab is now too expensive for many people to afford. However, the government could provide rehabilitation to those who need it but can not afford it, if the government stopped spending so much money on drug prohibition.
The Enormous Costs of Prohibition
Which brings me to my next point: the costs of prohibition. Jeffrey Miron, the Senior Lecturer on Economics at Harvard, says that the government spends forty billion dollars a year on prohibition, and misses out on an additional forty-six billion in potential drug tax revenues. So the monetary costs alone total 86 billion a year!
But there are other costs, involving human suffering. Let’s say I start using drugs occasionally to relax. I’m doing well in college, on my way to becoming a productive member of society. Then I get a drug conviction. This makes me ineligible to receive federal student aid. I’m not rich, so I can’t go to school anymore. What’s more, I can’t seem to find an employer who will hire me with a drug conviction. In this new world of dead ends, I begin to feel anxious and depressed, which makes my casual drug use turn into an addiction. My drugs are very expensive because drug prohibition has granted dealers a monopoly in their market. I can’t afford my habit, so soon I’m living on the street, stealing, conning, and selling drugs in order to support my addiction. Because the drugs I use are illegal, there is no regulatory agency to ensure product quality. So one day, I get a bad batch of the drug from my dealer, and it kills me.
This story should not sound far-fetched. This sort of scenario plays out all the time, the direct result of our dysfunctional drug policies. And it isn’t just drug users who pay the price. Society at large suffers. Drug prohibition has created a vast black market, which funds organized crime and international terrorist organizations. Every day, this black market fuels gang wars, robberies, and drive-by shootings. The innocent die along with the guilty. If drugs were legalized, this violent black market would vanish. (slide)
In addition, our drug policies put enormous strain on law enforcement and our prison system. President Jimmy Carter, now 86 years old, wrote an article for the New York Times just last month, urging America to end the war on drugs. He pointed out that we now imprison a higher percentage of our population than any other nation, and blamed drug prohibition for destroying millions of lives.
Our Drug Policies Don't Work
For all of the costs that our country pays for drug prohibition, it is not even working. The Global Commission on Drug Policy published a report last month. According to their report, which calls for an end to the war on drugs, the number of people using opiates, cocaine, and marijuana significantly increased between 1998 and 2008.
Studies show that cigarettes are more addictive than most illegal drugs. However, while the use of illegal drugs has increased, the use of tobacco has drastically fallen, despite the fact that tobacco has not been criminalized. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1965, almost 52% of adult males in America were smokers. By 2007, this figure had dropped to less than 24%. How is this possible? It’s because our society has spent considerable resources on increasing public awareness of tobacco-related health risks, because the tobacco industry is heavily regulated, and because quitting assistance is now available to anyone who wants it.
The War on Drugs is a War on Human Rights
Finally, drug prohibition is an unjust violation of civil liberties. Earlier, I asked if you think people should be put in jail for buying fast food. None of you raised your hands. Why not? Someone who eats too much fast food will destroy their health. Their productivity will decline. Their mental clarity and emotional stability will suffer due to their poor health. Their family will have to endure this loss of vitality in a loved one that they depend on. Eventually, they may even die of a heart attack or some other health problem. Clearly, fast food addiction comes with serious consequences. But we don‘t send people to jail for buying fast food. Why should it be any different with drugs?
John Stuart Mill was the figurehead behind the influential ethical theory called Utilitarianism. Mill believed strongly in protecting personal freedoms. For example, Mill said that one was within their legal rights to be intoxicated, and that the law could step in only if they directly harmed someone else or put someone in considerable risk. For example, driving while on drugs puts others in immediate danger, so it should be punished by law. But if someone chooses to be high, the government has no right to punish them just for being in that condition, if they are not actively endangering others.
I’ve shown that we can combat drug-related problems more effectively if drugs are legalized, that drug prohibition is costly and ineffective, and that prohibition wrongfully steps on our civil liberties. Clearly, it is time to end the war on drugs.
As you know, for a while I was destroying my life with alcohol. But I’m not drinking today, even though alcohol is still legal, and I can buy it anytime I want to. But I choose not to, for much the same reason that millions of ex-smokers no longer buy cigarettes. I became tired of the natural consequences of my behavior, so I chose to modify my behavior. That’s a part of growing up. And since we’re all adults, who are capable of growing and learning every day, I do hope some of you will join me in letting our government know that we are grown-ups. We don’t need a babysitter anymore.
© 2012 Justin Aptaker