Saturday, March 5, 2011

Illegal Drugs - Ivry Man (IM) asks Dr. Know (DK) for Guidance

Ivry man finds himself in the park and, as expected, sees Dr. Know seated on his usual bench looking absent minded.
IM. Dr. Know, how are you? It’s been quite a while since we spoke.
DK. [Warm smile] Indeed it has my dear friend. The responsibility for this lies with the guy who writes this dialogue. Apparently he has been very busy with other things and could not find the time to bother with the likes of us. Who am I to argue with that?
IM. [Looking confused] I am not sure I understand.
DK. Never mind. The fact that we are here must mean that there is something bothering you. Did you want to speak to me about something?
IM. [Serious] Yes, indeed. I just read this morning about two Americans who were killed in this drug-war that is going on in Mexico. It doesn’t seem as if the Mexican government is doing enough to keep its citizens, and now ours, safe, and to stamp out this drug epidemic.
DK. [Looking thoughtful] Maybe we should look at this a little more carefully. What do you suppose this “war” is all about?
IM. Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? These drugs are addictive, people are prepared to pay lots of money for them even though they shouldn’t have them, and so unscrupulous criminals have made a very big business out of it and are willing to go to war to defend that business. We have to do what it takes to put them out of business – step up to the plate!
DK. Well now let me get this straight. There are some people who want these drugs very badly and there are other people who want to sell to them. So what’s the problem exactly?
IM. [Exasperated]Are you deliberately being stupid? The problem is that we can’t simply allow people to sell and buy these very bad substances.
DK. And why is that?
IM. What is the matter with you? Don’t you think addictive drugs are terrible?
DK. Well yes, as a matter of fact I do. I think they are a curse. I can say nothing good about them. I am talking about hard drugs like heroine, crack, acid, etc. and various concoctions of over-the-counter stuff as well. I think cocaine is probably borderline and I think marijuana is pretty harmless.
IM.  How can you say that? Surely you know that marijuana is a gateway drug, a stepping stone to harder stuff. If you open the flood gates, what then? [Dr. Know grimaces at the mixed metaphors]
DK. As a matter of fact my dear Ivrey, I think that is completely false. I see no hard evidence that marijuana is itself addictive or leads to addiction of other substances. Nor do I see any credible evidence that it is unhealthy. Excess pot is surely less harmful than excess alcohol and alcohol can be dangerously addictive. And pot is certainly no more harmful than garden variety tobacco found in cigarettes, pipes and cigars. And we know that it has certain beneficial medicinal uses, for example in the treatment of pain and nausea. For the life of me I cannot even begin to understand why this stuff is illegal. We could save a lot of law enforcement dollars on this one.
IM. [Looking peeved] Well I can see I am not going to win this one. You do admit though that those other things are very bad?
DK. [Looking earnest] Indeed I do. Very bad.
IM. [Indignant] So, at least for the hard stuff, prohibit it?
DK.  No, my friend. This is an imperfect world. There are lots of dangerous temptations in it. Being a free person means having to make hard choices and bearing the consequences of one’s actions. We cannot, and do not try, to protect people from all that is bad in the world particularly when it is the result of their own bad choices. Who are we to decided for people what is good for them and what not? Should we prohibit the eating of red meat for everyone who has high cholesterol? We tried prohibiting the purchase and sale of alcohol and you know where that led. Isn’t this exactly the same as “Prohibition?”
         How long has this “drug-war” been going on? At least 30 years. Every successive administration, Republican or Democrat, pledges renewed efforts to control the sale and use of hard drugs; yet they are still with us, in the inner cities and in the affluent suburbs. The drug-war has not been won, cannot be won, and costs more and more in terms of dollars, corruption and human lives with each passing moment.
IM. [Incredulous] So what are you suggesting, that we just turn a blind eye to users and pushers?
DK. Think about it Ivrey. How could the harms and suffering of allowing free sale and use even begin to compare with the mounting costs of this war? I doubt we could accurately assess this cost. In addition to dollar expenditures and loss of life and limb (over twenty thousand people killed in Mexico alone since the war moved there from Colombia, many of them uninvolved innocents) we have to add the devastating loss of freedom and privacy as drug-enforcement thugs knock down doors and strip-search suspects, the costs of incarcerating hundreds of thousands of perpetrators, and the incredible degree of police corruption caused by the drug-enforcement situation.
IM. What do you mean?
DK  There is probably not a single urban police force in this country (and certainly not in Mexico) that is not seriously infiltrated by cops in the pay of drug-lords. How can local government (or even the federal government) compete with the kind of money the drug trade offers? And for what?
         Even more important, this is not something that should be a preoccupation of our secretary of state and an important aspect of our foreign policy as we lean very heavily on foreign governments to bear the brunt of this war. The demand for drugs in the U.S. and our attempt to stamp out the trade has resulted in major destruction to the economies of other countries, like Colombia and Afghanistan and now, to an even greater degree, Mexico. We, the U.S., have destroyed civil society and peaceful living in northern Mexico. We have made them pay dearly for our “problem.”
IM. [Red in the face] I just can’t believe you would allow people to be abused by these criminals without even trying to protect them.
DK. [Sad, concerned] If there were any likelihood of winning this war or even confining it to a low boil, one might make an argument for persisting; but after thirty years of war it is definitely time to declare defeat and choose the lesser evil – allow people to decide what to buy and ingest as long as they do it peacefully. And if you want to try and persuade them to make better choices, to “educate” them, that is your choice, with your dollar. Even if we used a fraction of the tax-payer dollars we now spend on enforcement for this educative effort, it would probably be more effective and sensible that this senseless “war.”
         Don’t you see Ivrey, if you criminalize something you attract people with a comparative advantage in being criminals. That is why there is so much horrifying violence. If it were decriminalized the violence would be unnecessary. The price would fall. Even low income addicts probably wouldn’t have to rob people to get their fix as often as now. The trade would be visible, like alcohol.
IM.  Don’t you think this will result in a huge increase in experimentation and addiction, especially among our vulnerable children?
DK. So dramatic. No I don’t actually. My best guess is that in the beginning there will be some spike in use and abuse, but in a short time this will smooth out. In the end we may actually have fewer users. But even if the number of users goes up this is no reason to persist with this craziness. And our children are already highly exposed to all manner of addictive substances, wherever they are.
IM. I should have known I was getting into trouble. So what is your specific proposal?
DK.  I propose officially decriminalizing the production and sale of all addictive substances and letting people make up their own minds. I suppose this is a non-starter. Then at least we can do this de-facto by putting drug-enforcement way behind the back-burner to where it is basically invisible.
IM. [looking thoughtful] It would take a lot of persuading to get to that point.
DK. Well that is why we are here you know (no pun intended). Our author decided to write this dialogue to do his little bit, just like he said he would when we last met (see here).
IM.  Well I hope to see you again soon. I see you looking at your watch. But I wonder if your argument about addictive drugs would not apply equally to prescription drugs (pharmaceuticals)?
DK.  As a matter of fact it would, and that will be the subject of our next discussion. Always a pleasure my good friend.
He rises and ambles off in the direction of … .