Time to End the War on Drugs But It's About Personal Freedom, Not Taxes By Peter Livingston

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

Last week, Pew released the results of a survey indicating that 52 percent of Americans feel marijuana use should be legal. This is up from 12 percent in 1969. The survey also showed that 48 percent have tried marijuana at some point in their lives. While reading this, I wondered what Governor Andrew Cuomo must have thought when reading the results of the survey. He probably wondered how New York State could utilize drones to identify marijuana users and fine them for illegal possession.

Looking at marijuana use across the United States, a quick estimate of fining half the population $100 each would generate $15 billion. That's a bit more than the United States drone program costs each year, but it is a fraction of what we pay to fight the war on drugs.

Drug abuse can destroy families and individual lives. Treatment is financially costly. Lost productivity as the result of drug abuse is a burden on the national economy. The effects of abuse are also seen with alcoholics, who abuse a legal drug. The war on drugs seeks to eliminate the damage done to individuals, families and society - and It has failed. Despite prohibition, drug use and abuse persists. It is time to evaluate the government's role in the regulation of currently illicit drugs.

When Logic and Proportion Have Fallen Sloppy Dead

It is disturbing that governments across the United States at some level view nearly half of its citizens as enemy combatants in the war on drugs. When government opposes the desires of over half of its citizens with the threat of imprisonment, it begs the question: why?

Using drugs is a personal decision. Although an individual under the influence of drugs may interfere with the rights of others, there is no requirement that he or she do so. The survey shows that 48 percent of individuals admit to smoking marijuana, an illegal act. I am not aware that 48 percent of people have criminally interfered with the rights of others while under the influence of marijuana. Instead of prohibiting individuals from acting a certain way, such as using drugs, the government should be focused on prohibiting an individual from violating another person's rights. In a free society, each law should bear the burden of demonstrating how it preserves freedom, not how it prevents choices which may or may not lead to infringing the rights of another.

That is not what our government has done. Instead, it treats drug users in a similar fashion as thieves and violent criminals. Our police forces have grown specifically to root out drug users. Our court system is flooded with drug cases. Our prisons are overcrowded. We have expanded the theater of war worldwide, drastically increasing the cost. And these are just the immediate costs.

In addition, drug users sent to prison are surrounded by violent criminals with different sets of values than are acceptable in civilized society. When they get out of prison, drug convicts find it difficult to obtain employment, encouraging them to adopt the values learned in prison. Further, with limited job opportunities, many convicts face depression and the temptation to abuse drugs. The cycle continues.

There Must Be Some Way Out of Here, Said the Joker to the Thief

Getting out of a war is never easy. You can either win, lose or enter into a truce. Our government certainly didn't win the war on drugs. Truces tend to not work out very well, as we see on the Korean peninsula. The remaining option is to wave the white flag. I'm not talking about just marijuana, which was the subject of the survey. I'm talking about all drugs.

We have a war on drugs because we have an insatiable appetite for them. Not me personally; I don't use them. I haven't even had a drink since election night, when I had several. Unfortunately, it didn't cause me to forget the results. Maybe I didn't try hard enough. Regardless, legalizing marijuana but keeping other drugs illegal will not change the fundamental flaws of the war on drugs. It criminalizes making a choice to use drugs; it does not address why a person uses drugs. Rather than criminalizing a choice that does not necessarily impact the rights of others, perhaps the government should use its power to discourage drug use.

In a free society, the power of persuasion should be preferable to the force of coercion.

The government uses its power to encourage and discourage frequently. By increasing taxes at a disproportionate rate, it discourages people from working harder and becoming too wealthy.By offering farm subsidies, it encourages farmers to produce crops that aren't needed. By subsidizing the minimum wage for teenagers, it discourages employers from hiring people in their twenties for entry-level jobs. Hopefully, government intervention would be more successful in dealing with drug use.

Driving that Train, High on Cocaine, Casey Jones You Better Watch Your Speed

The government should start with the premise that drug use is a personal choice, but it is undesirable. People must understand that drug use and abuse comes with responsibilities and costs. Money should be spent to make it abundantly clear that drug use is bad. As such, marketing drugs should not be permitted.

Drug use should be a disqualifier to receiving governmental benefits. If you use drugs, you should not be eligible for unemployment, welfare or other taxpayer funded assistance. Taxpayers should not be forced to fund undesirable behavior, nor should they be responsible for its consequences.

Further, employers should not be required to hire drug users. Casey Jones could, and should, be prevented from driving that train. Nor should insurance companies be forced to insure drug users, or, in the alternative, drug users should be forced to pay a higher rate for insurance. Although I am not a doctor, I have to assume that they are in a higher risk pool.

All of these arguments are based on the actors being consenting adults. Children should never be given access to non-medicinal drugs. They do not have the legal capacity to consent. Anyone who provides drugs to minors should be dealt with severely. I am not opposed to the death penalty, but I am willing to compromise to get this plan done.

And this should not be viewed as a revenue source for government! I am not opposed to taxing to generate revenue to educate and otherwise implement the drug program, but there should not be a temptation to fill the general fund. Higher taxes create the opportunity for a black market for drugs to emerge. A black market inhibits the government's ability to ensure the quality and purity of drugs in the marketplace.

Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind, and You Know that Notion Just Crossed My Mind

I am not under the illusion that this plan will proceed, or even be seriously introduced any time in the near future. However, we as a nation need to find an alternative to the war on drugs. Doing nothing is not an option. Well, at least it's not a good one.

Currently, tobacco and alcohol are legal drugs. The government recognizes an individual's freedom to use these drugs. It is an assumed freedom, not a granted right. These drugs are addictive. They are, for the most part, damaging to health. Some people use these drugs without infringing on the rights of others. Some do not. Other drugs do not share this legal status, and they should.

Our government has taken steps to discourage alcohol and tobacco use. These steps appear to have had a positive impact. The same approach should be taken with other drugs.

Drug use will not disappear, but the war on drugs should. The government will save billions of dollars by doing so. But the reason for ending the war on drugs should not be a primarily financial one. It should be because as a free country, we should be allowed to make our own choices, even bad ones. We should encourage good choices, but not force them. We should focus on protecting freedom, not prohibiting it.

But if that doesn't convince you, then let's end the war on drugs for financial reasons. We can't afford not to.

Comments? Please email me at peter.r.livingston@gmail.com. I also occasionally comment on Twitter @PRLivingston.

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