Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The War on Drugs

In 1989, the first President Bush declared "war" on drugs. It didn't require Congressional approval but everyone seemed to agree that declaring a state of war on a drug was the right thing to do. We were facing a very ugly cocaine epidemic (not that any drug epidemic is pleasant) and the popular opinion of the day was that we needed to take decisive action against this enemy that was attacking our very way of life and taking hostage many that we know and love. Good reason for a war.

Unfortunately, when we are feeling threatened and upset, a declaration of"war" actually feels kind of empowering and that it will solve the issues at hand. In fact, if you listen to people talk about our society's ever constant problem with drugs you hear language that is spoken like a combat leader who wants to rally the troops to the cause. We talk about "beating"drugs or the drug problem. We talk about "deploying" agents and delivering a "significant blow" to "the bad guys." We talk about drugs as a "scourge"that needs to be eliminated.

It's not that this language is totally off the mark but it's the "war room"mentality behind it that is at issue here. Here are my reasons for not wanting to call our effort to address drugs and addiction a "war."

1. This isn't a real war. Last time I checked, a war has a beginning, a number of battles, and an outcome that usually has a winner and a loser. Other than the 100 Years War several centuries ago, most declared wars don't last more than 4 or 5 years because nobody can last that long. This one has been going on for 20 years and with no end in sight.

2. Using the term "war" makes people who use drugs the enemy. We already have enough trouble trying to figure out who's who in this mess. The addicted people in our country may do crime and sometimes they deserve to be punished by society but the majority of those who are addicted need to be treated for their condition so they can get the help they need and not re-offend. Those addicted people who are locked up, only, have a very high rate of re-offending while those that get help have a more positive outcome.

3. Prevention and treatment work. Study after study have shown that for every dollar spent on prevention and every dollar spent on treatment saves many times that amount in savings to society. We can't arrest or fight our way out of this "war" but we can make significant progress through prevention and treatment, in concert with the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

4. Finally, science has shown us in the last 10 or so years that chemical addiction (including alcoholism) is a brain disease. Simply stated, this means that those who are addicted have a disease that requires treatment and that leaving that condition to run its course is about as effective as telling a diabetic that needs medical care to try harder next time.

Instead of waging war on drugs and, ultimately, on the drug user, let's develop a full approach that includes treatment, education, prevention, and law enforcement. The time for emotional responses that follows our intuition and our need to "attack" the problem is over. We need to combine all efforts to address strategically and intelligently the ever present problem of drug abuse and addiction in our country and in our society.

1 comment:

  1. Debaters debate the two wars as if Nixon’s civil war on Woodstock Nation didn’t yet run amok. One need not travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights or to Cuba for political prisoners. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, radicals, and non-whites under banner of the war on drugs. If we’re all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance global credibility.

    The drug czar’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as lives are flushed down expensive tubes. There’s trouble on the border. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. God didn’t screw up. Canadian Marc Emery sold seeds that enable American farmers to outcompete cartels with superior domestic herb. He is being extradited to prison, for doing what government wishes it could do, reduce demand for Mexican.

    The constitutionality of the CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) derives from an interstate commerce clause. Only by this authority does it reincarnate Al Capone, endanger homeland security, and throw good money after bad. Official policy is to eradicate, not tax, the number-one cash crop in the land. America rejected prohibition, but it’s back. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment. Father, forgive those who make it their business to know not what they do.

    Nixon promised that the Schafer Commission would support the criminalization of his enemies, but it didn’t. No matter, the witch-hunt was on. No amendments can assure due process under an anti-science law without due process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA halted all research and pronounced that marijuana has no medical use, period.

    The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. Americans shouldn’t need a specific church membership to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. Denial of entheogen sacrament to any American, for mediation of communion with his or her maker, precludes free exercise of religious liberty.

    Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Mayflower sailed to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

    Common-law must hold that adults are the legal owners of their own bodies. The Founding Fathers decreed that the right to the pursuit of happiness is inalienable. Socrates said to know your self. Mortal lawmakers should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should tolerate seekers’ self-exploration.