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Fixing a $40 Billion Mistake

By the Cynic


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As a libertarian writer, I am obligated to devote at least one column every six months to the monstrously ineffective drug war (they take away my merit badges and decoder ring otherwise). I have been slow to do this because, in effect, I was slow to come to terms with the concept of drug legalization. It was an idea that just wouldn't click with me.

When I was younger, I was quite the party boy (was?). I did more than my share of underage drinking and had fun experimenting with different illicit drugs. I was not a hard drug user, but I was a frequent user of so-called social drugs. I would say the strongest drug I had used was cocaine. Cocaine is an amazing drug. It is a drug, when first used, that one could immediately understand how people could become addicted to it.

The first time I drank alcohol, I drained my lunch all over my self. The first time I smoked a cigarette I coughed like crazy. The first time I tried marijuana I got incredibly sleepy and took a long nap. The first time I tried LSD I freaked out for nine hours straight. Cocaine was definitely different, upon my first use I wanted to feel that way forever.

So, I continued doing it. For a good six months I had convinced myself that I was 'just a weekend user.' I would tell myself that 'it was just a social drug,' and that 'it didn't impair my abilities' yadda, yadda, yadda. I was in denial, plain and simple. Upon realizing my denial, I walked away and quit using it. Was I a hard-core cokehead? No, but I can tell you that the mere typing of the word cocaine above, made me long for the taste of post nasal drip. That's quite a residual effect from a six month habit from 10 years ago.

The crowd that I associated with resembled that of a police lineup. Kids from broken homes that lived in dilapidated little houses that smelled like a cross between cat urine and a VD clinic.  Their mothers were seldom home and when they were there it usually involved a lot of yelling and beatings. I had seen many of these kids destroy themselves by moving on to harder drugs. Several ended up being arrested for robbery and most of them are probably still in jail for some other offense. I heard recently that a couple of them have discovered that they are HIV positive from sharing heroin needles. I have seen the dangers of drugs first hand and it ain't pretty.

I was more fortunate. My parents were married, we had a nice house and nice things. They were on me everyday to cut my hair and to improve my grades (I did neither), and they were there when I needed them. I was able to walk away, but I often wondered how I, a kid with a good stable foundation, came so close to the same fate as the cat urine/VD kids. This to me was the danger of drugs, and this is why I supported the war on drugs. It was the typical "if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone" argument.

So what changed? As I have gotten older I've come to realize that while my personal experiences may provide me with guidance and wisdom, they are anecdotal to everyone else.  Where before I believed that I got involved with drugs in spite of my good upbringing, I now understand that I avoided the pitfalls of drug use because of it. My upbringing couldn't shield me from the exposure to drugs, but it did give me the sense of responsibility and the judgment to walk away. The cat urine kids had no such virtues. The drugs didn't do them in, it was their upbringing. If it wasn't an illegal drug it would have been alcohol, if it wasn't alcohol it would have been glue sniffing. Drugs aren't the disease for these kids, it's just a symptom of a much larger problem.

Uncle Sam cannot legislate that you must love your kids. Often, they try to do the next best thing and try to make parenting easier by passing laws that try to decrease the availability of drugs, alcohol, tobacco etc. With drugs, as with everything else, they fail miserably. Look, I was a 14 year old snot nosed punk in the suburbs with no car and I was able to find dope anytime I wanted it. If I had any money I could guarantee a score. Despite National Drug Awareness Month PR campaigns, police raiding homes and the umpteen gazillion laws against drug use and sales and I was still able to walk two blocks and get what I wanted. It was just that easy.

I have read that the war on drugs costs Americans as much as $40 billion per year. The bulk of this money goes to stopping supply. While some may think it's admirable to try to prevent people from destroying themselves, most reasonable people understand that you cannot treat drug abuse on the supply end. One only needs to look at a controlled environment like a prison. Here you have fences, watchtowers, guards, random drug searches and X-ray scanners checking the mail supply and you know what? Drugs are everywhere. They can't stop them.

Now I am sure that someone, somewhere is penning off an email to me telling me how some kid in my exact same circumstances and will go on to explain how this kid didn't manage to get out. Telling me how this kid had the picture perfect upbringing and ended up a serial killer or some other kind of delinquent. Again, I will have to ask them how the government can fix this. They can't keep the drugs out, they can't lock up everyone who uses or sells drugs (and boy do they try). The only thing I can see them doing to help stop tragedies like this would be to reduce the tax burden to a point that most families could rely on one income. Parental influence has been shown to be the main factor for those kids who avoid drugs. Positive parental influence only will increase when exposure to your child increases. That's hard to do with 80+ working hours between the parents. Here's a $40 billion dollar tax relief package that's ready to's not enough, but it's a start.

Ultimately it has taken me far too long to see the folly of the drug war, but I can proudly say that I am now against it. The government has proven to me, once again, how inefficient and how off base it can be. Whenever the feds decide to protect you from yourself it often involves huge amounts of wasted taxpayer money, major violations of rights and accomplishes very little. Government was, is and always will be a poor replacement for good old fashioned parenting. It's a shame that it costs us $40 billion a year while we are trying to figure that out.

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Buy Books on Drug Legalization

The Enemy Is Us : How to Defeat Drug Abuse and End the 'War on Drugs'

by Robert H. Dowd

Ending the War on Drugs: A Solution for America

by Dirk Chase Eldredge

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Drug Legalization

The Cynic, 2001

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