Tuesday, July 14, 2009

That’s What They Say—Part 2

The other part of the pro-drug war argument is the actual, once-and-for-all, definitive way to make it really work: get tough(er). In other words, the solution to our drug problem is stiffer penalties (sounds a lot like the first President Bush). Some qualify that by saying that the severe penalties should be aimed not at users, but at the rest of the people that make up the recreational drug black market—the producers, smugglers, dealers, and such. If you make the penalties severe enough, that will certainly discourage people from producing and selling drugs. Granted, it just might discourage a few, but I think the negative side effects of such an approach would be far worse than its doubtful benefits.

For one thing, higher risk means higher prices. And the one thing we can be certain of is that if addicts have to pay more, crime will go up. Higher risk also means that only the most hard-core, serious criminal types will continue to be involved in the business. The drug black market attracts some pretty bad individuals already. If the stakes are higher, they’re only going to get worse, mainly because the less serious will find other means of making a living.

And of course stiffer penalties don’t address the fact that once something is made illegal, the government loses all control over it. Legal drugs are regulated—their sale and distribution is controlled. You have to be 21 years old to buy liquor and, as a result, it’s not so easy for kids to get it (not impossible of course). Responsible merchants, which most are, won’t sell liquor without proof of their customer’s age. However, illegal drug dealers are generally not quite so responsible. They tend to be equal-opportunity vendors, and will sell to anybody with money. And if the risk is higher, even the ones with a bit of a conscience might relax their standards to make all they can as fast as they can. Even now, for most kids illegal drugs are easier to come by than legal ones. Stiffer penalties are not going to change that, other than possibly making the situation worse.

In conclusion, I don’t think it’s our government’s job to protect people (i.e., competent, sane, adults) from themselves. Nor do I think it’s even possible. Legislation will never prevent stupidity. And I don’t think stiffer penalties will help either. Other than the law enforcement and prison industries, who certainly welcome all the money thrown their way. If you think that’s crazy talk, then just look at the historical data. Anti-recreational-drug legislation has, at best, maintained the status quo. In some cases it’s exacerbated the problem, and even created new problems. What’s crazy is expecting the government to solve all of our social and medical problems.

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