Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Other Disastrous War

It costs hundreds of billions of dollars, there’s no end in sight and tens of thousands have been killed. It is empowering our enemies and weakening our friends.

I’m referring to the “war on drugs”, probably the most misguided set of policies in the world today. It is a war that attempts to defy the law of supply and demand, eradicate one of the core desires of human beings and use military force to solve a social problem. All the while this “war” uses empty moralizing to mock freedom and liberty, diminish individual rights, and perpetrate a form of racial and class warfare that would make the KKK proud. In short, it is a delusional set of policies with disastrous consequences. I am 100% certain that people will look back and wonder how we could have been both so blind and so stupid.

In this piece I do not intend to list all of the facts that underlie my assessment; they have been documented ad nauseum for decades. Check out these websites: here, here, here, and here for detailed accounts of the grim statistics and how your tax money is being thrown down the drain. And here is a collection of essays in William F. Buckley’s ultra-conservative National Review on the utter futility of the “war on drugs”. In addition, a couple recent examples of collateral damage and violations of international sovereignty in the "war on drugs" are here and here.

What I want to focus on in this piece is one aspect of this war which is not as prominent as it should be, and which provides an opening for a courageous politician of either party.

A commitment to promoting families and “family values” is now something that all serious candidates for higher office must demonstrate. For most rightwing politicians this somehow has morphed into a bizarre platform of anti-abortion, anti-gay, and anti-sex education policies, combined with calls for greater censorship of the media (for sex only, of course, violence is okay). For the left, the issue of “family values” is somewhat vague and usually comes wrapped in calls for greater education funding, health care, and sometimes censorship as well.

But in the end, it is difficult-to-impossible for the government to legislate values. The problems that lead families to disintegrate are due to complex factors that have nothing to do with election cycles. There is no doubt that sex education and better health care can make a difference, but there is one policy shift that would have a dramatic and almost immediate effect on family life in America: the decriminalization of most illegal drugs.

Hundreds of thousands of families each year are devastated by the incarceration for drug offenses of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and uncles and aunts. Most of these offenses are non-violent, yet in many states they are met with hard time in prisons full of violence-prone people. Not only is this insanely unjust, but it hits the most vulnerable families the hardest, which are disproportionately minorities. Treating drug addiction not as a crime, but as an illness, would dramatically improve the lives of millions of people. No longer would children have to visit their parents, siblings and other relatives in jail; no longer would they become increasingly jaded and disconnected from society; no longer would they continue to use drugs behind bars. Instead they would be eligible for treatment programs, community service and other rehabilitation efforts.

Would this be a panacea? Of course not. But the current policy is simply unsustainable. We will eventually have to treat drug addiction as what it is: a health problem, not a criminal problem. In addition, casual users should be no more stigmatized than those who drink a few beers, smoke cigarettes, or pop one of the hundreds of legal drugs that Americans consume by the billions each year. It is not a crime to catch a buzz; it is an elemental part of human nature. (And as studies continue to demonstrate, many illegal drugs such as marijuana are safer than alcohol or tobacco.)

It will take a brave politician to state the obvious. The inevitable smear will surely follow, accusing him or her of being “soft on crime”. This in turn will be compounded by the prejudice that we have for people who choose to get high on things other than what are considered socially acceptable.

But the politician who breaks through this delusional fog and changes the terms of the debate will help to usher in a new era, one that will truly help families and ultimately end the “war on drugs”. This will be a legacy worthy of the highest praise.

P.S. On a completely unrelated note, I have entered my first novel into a writing competition on gather.com. If you're interested, you can read the first chapter and leave comments. Thanks.

Jason Scorse

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