You’re Fucking High!

Has the criminalization of drug use helped to curb the epidemic or to fuel it?

Question:

If you believe that the use of all drug classes should be legal, would you want your physician or surgeon to “take the edge off” by ingesting drugs before they plan your care, prescribe medication, perform surgery on you or discuss treatment options for your newly diagnosed cancer?   

“In spite of hundreds of billions of dollars spent over decades of time and millions of people arrested and jailed the problem of drug use and abuse has only increased and not just marginally, but overwhelmingly”

            A simple answer to the question proposed would necessarily be “no”. I don’t believe anyone would want their doctor under the influence of a mind-altering drug while providing care to them.  A simple yes or no answer will not however address the larger issue, nor will it provide an opportunity to place this subject into some kind of context.

The larger issue is drug de-criminalization and the reallocation of resources. It is also a question of private enterprise vs. government oversight and personal responsibility. Many people believe drug use should be legalized, some for medical uses, some for personal reasons, some simply because they don’t feel criminalizing it has led to a safer more sober society.

There are many voices and motivations at play and the stakes are as high as some of the participants. We’re going to look at both sides, ask sober questions (Pun intended) and hopefully raise the level of discourse somewhat.  I admit that’s doubtful since the two opposing sides are populated by the hopelessly stupid and the incredibly HIGH and between them stand the perpetually apathetic.

Marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, uppers, downers, zippers, whippets, molly, Maryjane, smack, Capt. Cody Hippie crack and everything in between. There are many drugs that have many names and the list grows longer every day. Each new generation has its own unique relationship with them. “A rose by any other name…” said the poet, will get you just as high.

Our history with drug use goes back to at least 3000 BCE and in that time our opinion of it has changed often. Many drugs illegal today have in years past been used as an herbal remedies, an aid in meditation and religious ceremonies and outside the US many still are today.

Americans usually use these drugs to relieve stress, escape reality and/or feel euphoric. Most recreational drugs have been outlawed in the 20th century in the west due to the belief that they caused people to commit crimes and immoral acts, which is an obvious logical fallacy.

Humans commit crimes and immoral acts for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with drug use. I’ll bet that of all the contributing motivations for crime and immorality, drugs actually fall low on the list, but Americans are generally ignorant.

Help, stop, no…

Our perception of drug use has begun to change some over the decades and drugs have been de-criminalized in certain European countries with some interesting effects. Most notably Portugal where the de-criminalization of drug use has had rather stunningly positive consequences.

There is still, however, huge resistance to drug de-criminalization. There are many who don’t want acceptance of drugs use at the same level that alcohol has had in our society.

Arguments against decriminalization follow similar patterns. Some argue that drug use is currently a public health crisis accounting for huge problems in American society.

Another says that these drugs could never be regulated by the FDA. And some echo the question posed at the outset of the article and are wary of a country filled with stoned doctors, pilots, police officers, etcetera.

            Law Enforcement officers and legislators are also reluctant to swing open the door to wholesale drug de-criminalization.

            On the other side of this issue are those who believe just as sincerely that the criminalization of drug use hasn’t had the desired effect. They contend that the continued criminalization of drug use makes little sense in light of the data.

            Another point of view on points out that criminalizing drug use has only served to bolster the black-market sale of marijuana for example and has simply served to create more crime rather than relieve it.

            It is true that gangs make considerable amounts of money selling marijuana.   According to some government estimates, Mexican drug cartels make more than 60 percent of their profits from marijuana alone and control distribution networks in     more than 250 American cities.

However, the only reason such criminal groups make any money at all from marijuana is that our current policies allow them to. By keeping marijuana illegal and confined to the black market, our wildly ineffective marijuana laws — and any elected official who supports them — are to blame for handing criminals a virtual monopoly on the lucrative marijuana trade. Many people may be surprised to learn that marijuana is estimated to be America’s largest cash crop, a $36 billion-a-year industry larger than corn and wheat combined. (It’s not the marijuana, 2014).

The same argument can easily be transferred to almost any illegal drug use. Except in the case of pharmaceutical grade drugs like carphentinil and Oxycontin whose profits belong solely to enlightened companies like Pfizer and Rickett Benckiser.

The advocates for de-criminalization go on to say that it will serve to bring drug use out of the dark and off the streets where the potential for crime and harm to society is multiplied and into mainstream American consciousness where its use can be regulated, taxed and managed much as alcohol has been in the 20th century. It is worth noting the virtual non-existence of a black market for alcohol since prohibition was reversed in 1933.

            Obviously, this is a complex issue with many aspects to consider. To offer a logical and enlightened opinion one must contemplate all viewpoints and pose appropriate questions. Socrates in his wisdom began every premise knowing that he didn’t have the answers, but that by asking the right questions perhaps truth would emerge.

So, what are some of the questions raised in this debate? Well let’s start with an obvious one. Has criminalization served to reduce the number of people using drugs?

Well according to Marijuana statistics.com from 1992 to 2001 there was an increase in arrests related to marijuana use from 342,314 arrests to 723,627, an increase of 110% in less than a decade.

That number rose even more by 2005 when 786,545 arrests were made. An argument can easily be made based on these numbers that criminalization has not dissuaded Americans from using marijuana. (NORM, 2006). The statistics on opioid use are even more dramatic.

             How about the economic perspective, is criminalization of drug use cost effective?  According to the JFA Institute, a non-profit research institute that works with State and Federal government, approximately 12 billion dollars are spent on police and court costs every year to combat illegal marijuana use and another 16.9 billion on corrections to incarcerate the offenders.

Over four decades, it is estimated, American taxpayers have dished out $1 trillion on the drug war with between 10-20% of that amount going towards marijuana enforcement. That means that as much as 200 billion dollars has been spent trying to stop Americans from using marijuana over the past 40 years with seemingly little effect. 94 million Americans or 1/3 of the total population admit to having used marijuana in their lifetimes.

             Meanwhile according to a recent report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, a private group at Columbia University, Government spending related to alcohol abuse, illegal drugs and tobacco reached $468 billion in 2005.

Most spending went toward health care costs, or for law enforcement expenses including police, courts, and incarceration. Barely more than 2% of the total went to prevention, treatment, and research.

“This is such a stunning misallocation of resources,” said Joseph A. Califano Jr., chairman of the center, referencing the lack of treatment and prevention spending. “It’s a commentary on the failure of governments to make investments in the short run that would pay enormous dividends to taxpayers over time.”

Once again a strong argument seems to exist that de-criminalization would free up much needed funding for the prevention and treatment of drug addiction.

            Finally, one might ask if the private sector would be better suited to deal with the issue of drug use in the workplace as our scenario about the doctor suggests. So, who is better positioned to ensure the public safety, government, or business?

The track record of the different levels of government has already been fairly well laid out. In spite of hundreds of billions of dollars spent over decades of time and millions of people arrested and jailed the problem of drug use and abuse has only increased and not just marginally, but overwhelmingly.

So, what guarantee do I have, in the system we now employ, that my Doctor isn’t high? If the burden were shifted to the hospital, in the case of the doctor, or the airline, in the case of the pilot, or the railroad or the taxi service and so on, would they do a better job of ensuring that the people in their employ were sober and fit to serve the public safely?

Many companies already drug test their employees to ensure safety and profits and while alcohol is legal to consume in America it’s use is strictly forbidden in the workplace. Therefore, a precedent already exists for business to require sobriety as a condition of employment and the use of drug tests to ensure that sobriety from their employees.

Why then couldn’t this formula be used with other drugs as well? Especially in light of the fact that the businesses would have a powerful motivator to curtail drug use in the workplace since accidents and poor performance by intoxicated employees is bad for the bottom line. A motivation, by the way, the government lacks utterly.

Even when government does a poor job, as it seems to have done on the drug issue, it still gets its funding from the taxpayer. Businesses that did a poor job of drug control would soon be forced out of the market by their competitors who did well to protect their profits and thereby the public safety.

            One might also ask that if “Evidence shows our drug problem is a major public health and safety threat, and drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated.” as the White House states, then why is only 2% of federal money focused on prevention and treatment?

            Perhaps if more people emulated Socrates and began asking questions instead of blindly swallowing whatever is shoved their way, truth might yet emerge, and a safer more sober society might follow. Or the ubiquitous “They” might force us to drink the hemlock and go on screwing things up. Let’s see.

Just Sayin’

Published by Bill Banner

Addiction Research, Social Philosophy, Social Psychology, Political Theory, Public Relations, Political Consulting, Social Commentary, History, Science, Consciousness, Religion & Universal Truth. RN, BSN.

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