Thursday, September 24, 2009

One War We Don’t Need


Mr. Obama, the momentum that carried you to the White House needs to be used to end a war. This war has gone on for too long and it needs to end now. This could be the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan which you are hopefully doing all you can to get us out of and bring peace to those lands. No easy task, but you wanted to be President.

But the war you need to stop immediately is the war on drugs. The United States has over 2.3 million people behind bars while China, with 4 times our population, has only 1.6 million locked up. According to the US Department of Justice, “30-40 percent of all current prison admissions involve crimes that have no direct or obvious victim other than the perpetrator,” and it continues “Nearly a third of all prison admissions are from non- violent drug offenses.” Why are we waging a war on ourselves?

If we compare the number of deaths in the United States (Center for Disease Control) each year directly related to smoking, over 400,000, alcohol consumption, approximately 75,000, marihuana, cocaine and heroin combined are under 10,000.

If we take into consideration the amount of social damage that the illegal drug trade causes not only in the United States, but especially in Mexico and Colombia, the entire idea of a drug war becomes absurd. We must immediately end this war and legalize marijuana, heroin, cocaine as well as methamphetamines and designer drugs like Ecstasy.

How can we purport to be a free society when we have the highest incarceration rate in the world? The largest portion of these inmates are non-violent drug offenders. By sending this people to prison the only thing we are doing is making them more dangerous, more marginalized and less civilized. Whether it is recreational drug use or flat out addiction, we should not be incarcerating people because they want or need to medicate themselves.

By legalizing these drugs and creating a market price that eliminates the incentive to smuggle, we will end the international drug cartels without firing a shot, or putting one more person in jail. This will bring much needed stability to many regions of Latin America currently reeling from drug wars and drug financed civil wars.

There will certainly be an increase in the usage of these drugs once they are legalized but it is a small price to pay for the peace that will be won and it will no where near reach the type of damage that alcohol causes in our society. As a society we accept the damage that alcohol causes. We not only accept it, we allow the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages to actively promote the consumption of alcohol and lifestyles that emphasize it. We can not live in a completely sober society, nor is there any significant groups calling for that. By simply opening the possibilities of the chemicals legally available for people to use for their enjoyment, we will become a more tolerant and free society. With the revenue generated from the sales of these drugs rehabilitation centers will be opened to care for those who need rehabilitation not only for newly legalized drugs, but for alcohol and prescription drugs.

Some studies say that 1 in 5 adult males in the US either has a serious drinking problem or abuses alcohol. How many families are ruined and people killed and maimed in alcohol related fights and automobile accidents? Yet no one promotes a return to prohibition. We understand that as a society most people can use alcohol responsibly, and a minority will abuse it. The same will occur with drugs. Why should the government decide how its citizen can intoxicate themselves? It makes no sense and it also disproportionately affects minorities. Whites use alcohol more, minorities use marijuana more.

The debate on health care has shown the very limited capacity of the American people to conduct a national debate on an important issue. Instead of focusing on the real consequences of public policy, the discussion becomes an adolescent name calling contest, falling back on clichés and archaic historic references. This debate will no doubt further inflame the fringe. I new strategy must be used to bring a national consensus to the drug issue.

The United States has a long tradition of personal freedom and libertarian values which are much admired with the political right and fundamentalist groups. We must equate the right to use and buy drugs with the right to bear arms. It must be a debate about personal liberty and about less government. Who is the government to tell its citizens that they cannot consume marijuana? Where does the Constitution talk about marijuana? Maybe soon they will say we can only drink California Chardonnay? What if we want Bud Light? This must be made a fundamental rights campaign.

From a marketing standpoint there could be no better promoter for this than a “talking head, right wing radio personality”. If one can’t be engaged, it should be simple enough to create a new one for the job. The health care debate has shown the nation is not mature enough to have a serious debate, and the only way to find consensus is to employ mass media demagogues able to disguise good policy in childish rants.

For those more intellectually inclined, a data rich website should be constructed, giving people a healthy dose of numbers to show how misguided this policy has become and how it has turned the United States into one of the worlds biggest police states. The numbers are truly staggering when apples to apples comparisons are made between legal and illegal drugs. Anyone capable of simple logic and cost benefit analysis is convinced almost immediately.

The ancient Greeks understood the delicate balance between vice and pleasure. When Bacchus, the God of the Vine, was imprisoned by Pentheus, the outcome proved disastrous. Bacchus must be free, or he will create violence and havoc similar to what we have on our hands now with the war on drugs.

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