2012-12-06

Argument for Drug Re-De-Criminalization


Posted on my Coursera Course
I would argue that the harm to oneself, family, society is arbitrary, hard or impossible to measure and should be dismissed as a criterion.  Many many other much more harmful substances and behaviours are countenanced by society, or indeed, by various and sundry societies throughout the world.

I would further argue that the proclivity towards addiction is an individual personality/physiology issue and less to do with the nature of any given drug.  I know many people who have tried or even been serious users of cocaine for example and simply dropped it or found it didn't appeal to them, while I also know many many others who have been severely addicted to cocaine, alcohol, even cannabis, eating, cutting, exercise, etc. and have been completely unable to stop or moderate or only with force majeure intervention and constant attention.  The addition argument against "re-de-criminalization" should be tossed out.  At best, it's a personal and medical issue.

Facts in favor of re-de-criminalization include the unfortunate experiment of the USA in prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and its well-documented repercussions.  To name a few, start with organized crime and the obvious economic underpinnings of this development.  To put it in very simple terms, desired good becomes scarce, price goes up,  normal economic competition to fulfill the supply is outlawed, organized crime comes in.  Criminals do not compete with each other on an economic basis, so extreme violence ensues.

Another argument is safety of product.  There is no oversight by officialdom as to the quality of product, be they alcohol or other drugs.  Shoddy production as is common with ecstasy now and was common with alcohol then (methanol contamination, etc.) are rampant.  There is also no disincentive from the prospect of legal recourse by consumers, since the whole trade is illegal.   Also the deliberate cutting of product with cheap, often dangerous contaminants to stretch the yield and profits is uncontrolled, e.g., methanol, water, Clorox, pencil shavings, etc.

Related to this loss control is the loss of government tax revenue.  Such revenue could pay for police and medical personnel who might be needed to deal with traffic accidents, overdoses, health issues, etc., to do with addicts.  This goes back to the earlier argument:  we have the addicts anyway, much as Christ spoke of the poor when his feet were anointed with oil ;-), but prohibition means that the government has less money, money which they would have in proportion to the substance use, moreover.  This brings in the next point...

Prohibition is a misallocation of public funds, particularly the police but also the bureaucracy and elsewhere.  We have bureaucrats worrying about prohibition, public prosecutors wasting months and months going after drug "criminals" instead of real criminals, the police waste time making arrests and chasing down evidence.  All this makes them less able to deal with criminals who do real harm.  This is a problem for at least two reasons.   One is that drugs are a consensual crime, i.e., all participants are willing, much like prostitution or gambling, and so there is no complaining witness.  I would argue that the presence of a plaintiff should be a sino quod non for defining anything as a crime and end things there, by the way.  The result is that it's very hard to gather evidence, get witnesses to testify in trials, etc., i.e., everything that makes most if not all legal systems work.  In other words, all our police and prosecutors effectively waste all their time since getting a conviction, and a conviction based on what laws?  what legal principles?  More on that anon...  The second major issue is that since there is, I would argue based on the ethical nature of legal systems, i.e., finding justice for the victims and demonstrating to society that the behaviour is unacceptable, no ethical basis for prosecuting anyone based on drug crimes alone, i.e., no plaintiff to satisfy, and there is a lot of money involved as previously mentioned (which is the main issue in this case), public officials are subject to corruption.  Society then has to deal with being run by public officials who are secretly compromised by some criminal element and who are not impartial as we expect from our public institutions, i.e., the assumption of fairness, equality and impartiality are invalidated.

This brings us to another point, which is the moral basis for laws against consensual crimes.  I would argue that in a free society, a society that claims to espouse the individual pursuit of happiness, and a society that claims to support free enterprise and free capitalism cannot reasonably countenance, really, any restriction on the free, consensual personal and economic association between adults.  American society, and indeed many others, claim to espouse these principles, i.e., those of personal freedom and enterprise.  Is is hypocritical to ban drugs and these other things.  It also goes against the tenet that personal freedom and enterprise are good, that they make people happier and they enrich society with more culture, a greater variety of goods and services, and greater technology.  Whenever we make exceptions to those principles we do so at the peril of forsaking the benefits promised by this set of principles that underpin our way of life.   We proclaim a lack of faith in our own beliefs, a lack of conviction.

I would point out by way of example that in Alameda County around the turn of the Century, prostitution, drugs, guns, alcohol (though not public drunkenness, which is by the way more or less find and dandy in Japan), and gambling were all legal and the crime rate was much lower than now.  Historical examples abound that the non-criminalization  of "consensual crimes" does not lead to mayhem.  The notion that society will fall apart somehow if these laws were changed is hardly tenable, ludicrous, in fact.

Finally, another moral point.  Historically, prohibition laws of all types target some minority for oppression.  The Chinese in the Western USA were opium users, and also gamblers (Tan games, etc.) so outlawing opium and gambling allowed the police to break into places of business and homes of this mistrusted minority and thereby exert control over them.  African-Americans and Hispanics, of course, were cannabis (marijuana) users, so "marihuana" prohibition targetted them.  Indeed, most of the prisoners of the 2 million in US prisons are people of color for this very reason.  Prostitution obviously targets women, depriving them of their safety, freedom, and ability to make money to support themselves and their children, as will as allowing the police to hassle them at will (without even having to buy them a drink).  Controls on other things such as exotic dancing and so forth have the same effect.  Gun laws originally were to ban "cheap" guns for the very purpose of taking guns out of the hands of African-Americans in their poor neighborhoods by the simple expedient of making guns more expensive.  This, obviously, allowed white mobs to enter with impunity, the "Deacons of Defense" and others having been effectively disarmed.  I'll spare you the darkly racist origins of terms such as "Saturday Night Special".

So, our current drug laws (and other prohibition laws) have their origins in deeply racist motivations, often sugar-coated with high-sounding moral arguments put forward by self-righteous do-gooders such as Harry J. Anslinger (to whom we owe most of the propaganda refrains about "marihuana" which persist today).  They have since taken on a life of their own, engulfing "White Society" in addition to the people of color who were their original targets (and still their greatest victims)..  Their justifications are all ex post facto apologia, and they are still serving their original function.

To summarize:
1.  The "protect health/society" argument is a non-starter due to the nature of addiction and other reasons
2.  The tremendous harm caused by prohibition far outweighs any possible benefit (which is non-existent anyway)
3.  From a moral, ethical, and human rights standpoint, prohibition laws are completely untenable

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