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Garret Rueckert

POLS 2070
The War on Drugs is a War on Freedom
When speaking of the societal problems of drugs, one must address two concerns: drug
use itself and the effects of drug policy. If the costs of the latter outweigh the costs of the former,
then a new approach must be taken. There are perceived social benefits to Drug Prohibition such
as lowering usage, keeping illicit drugs from children, and a moral superiority in legislatively not
endorsing drug use. However, as will be demonstrated, almost any justification for the current
system of drug laws can be shown to be false or worse. In many cases, the desired result from
Drug Prohibition is the exact opposite of the reality that Drug Prohibition creates. Rising
incarceration rates, lack of help for addicts, violence (especially on the US-Mexican border), the
prevalence of crime related to maintaining a drug habit, a lucrative black market, and the
spreading of disease are just some of the problems current drug policy creates. Drug Prohibition
is an especially injudicious double-edged sword because not only is it an expenditure to maintain
the illicit status of these drugs, but there is actually potential revenue to be had if some of these
drugs were properly legalized and taxed. Similarly, the United States is missing out on a
potentially huge hemp industry, as hemp is also banned as it is a relative to marijuana. Hemp
could also replace many lumber industry textiles, thus helping conservation efforts and
environmentally friendly industries. Cultural bias makes most Americans believe that alcohol is a
relatively safe drug (though the vernacular is hesitant to call alcohol a drug) that can be regulated
for consumption by adults, whereas marijuana is taboo. This continuing taboo stems from the
justification for making it illegal in the 1930s, which, unsurprisingly, had racial prejudice at its
heart. Black jazz musicians of the day and migrant Mexican workers preferred to use this drug,
so in an effort to isolate and oppress these groups, the white political class ran smear campaigns

and made propaganda against marijuana in order to get the whole of the white population to buy
into the further oppression of one group. Freedom of choice for oppressed groups has long meant
freedom to choose only what the oppressor allows.
The two conflicting priorities in the War on Drugs are safety for the good of society and
individual freedom. Unfortunately, lack of imagination makes the American public feel as though
one must be sacrificed for the other, but the common ground between the two is vast. Both
concerns have a legitimate claim in a free and civil society. Neither camp is advocating the use of
drugs, the prevalence of crime, or growing the United States ludicrous prison population
which sits disturbingly at an estimated 2.2 million incarcerated persons. That number comes with
many facts: it is 25% of the worlds inmate population within a demographic (Americans) that is
only 5% of total world population; it represents an 800% increase since President Nixon declared
a war on public enemy number one in 1971; it looks like a 1/3 chance of being imprisoned if
an individual is a black male, and 60% of those 2.2 million are racial minorities; and it represents
the nonviolent 51% of drug offending inmates in federal prison. Since these unfortunate facts go
against the ideals of a safe, free, and civil society, inquiry must be made into who arranged this
and why. Drugs can ruin families and lives, but so can incarceration. 1 in 9 black children has an
incarcerated parent; for Latinos, that number is 1 in 28; and for whites, that number is 1 in 57.
The effects of this is known as the cradle to prison pipeline, as these kids are more at risk for
criminal activity, more economically disadvantaged, and suffer from developmental problems.
The American attitude of punishment over rehabilitation also helps push these kids through the
symbolic pipeline.
So who then is the culprit in this War on Drugs? Former Judge Jim Gray, who now
advocates change in drug policy, identifies six winners in the current system. They are 1) drug

cartels, 2) gangs that recruit juveniles, 3) law enforcement agencies, 4) politicians who reap the
political benefits of tough on crime rhetoric, 5) private sector prison interests, and 6) terrorist
organizations. The losers in such a system are anyone and everyone who doesnt fall into one of
those 6 categories. Drug Prohibition is a racket. It does not serve the interests of personal
freedom nor safety. The massive increase in prisoners over the past 40 years or so has fueled
what is now known as the Prison-Industrial Complexa mixing of governmental, private, and
even criminal interests to generate profits for those who incarcerate and enforce the drug laws,
but also for those who benefit from the black market of drugs. They do this by increasing
incarcerated persons and therefore the demand for their services. Within the prisons, inmates
often work for much less than the federal minimum wagethis is the equivalent to slavery.
Black prisoners, being the most subjugated group to this racket, can plainly see that the analogy
of slavery is not at all overstated. If the situation appears dire, it is because that is unequivocally
the case. Nonetheless, there are alternative models to Drug Prohibition that could demolish the
Prison-Industrial Complex.
The solutions range from government-funded (or subsidized) rehab facilities to nonprofit
government organizations that offer the drugs to addicts at half the price of the black market. A
mixed system of what countries such as Holland, Portugal, and Switzerland have done in the past
decade along with other policy experimentswould be most prudent. Addictive and
destructive drugs such as heroine and meth could still be illegal to manufacture, but simple
possession would result in referral to a specialized drug council (as in Portugal). Addicts could
go to a doctor instead of prison. In Switzerland, they have a program of offering addicts a
prescribed dose to get them through the withdrawals as the doctors assist the addicts. If an addict
commits any crimes or is caught with outside-source drugs not from the agency, they are dropped

from the programthus the incentive for addicts to stay in the program is very high. This
method has been particularly effective for the Swiss and since its implementation has remained
very popular (70% of the Swiss electorate voted to keep the program when a proposal to get rid
of it came up for a vote). For other drugs, such as marijuana and the nontoxic hallucinogens, full
legalization would prove more pragmatic. In Holland, up to 5 grams of marijuana can be sold to
anyone over the age of 18 in designated coffee shops that have the proper permits. In 2001,
Portugal decriminalized possession of all drugs and has since seen a decline in usageespecially
among 15-19 year old youthsand had the lowest marijuana usage in the EU for 4 consecutive
years. Not surprisingly, there is no desire among the Portuguese, Dutch, or Swiss populations to
reverse these policy changes.
The solutions proposed and practiced by these countries address the shared concerns of
safety and personal freedom. Rehabilitation is prioritized over punishment, taxes can be collected
on sales, drugs will not be laced with other dangerous compounds, and most importantly, drugs
can be regulated in an open market. It is obvious that drug dealers dont ask for ID from
customers who are minors, but a store clerk at a marijuana dispensary would be required to by
law. A recent article in Time magazine estimated that nearly 50% of the US population has tried
an illicit drug at least once. The respect for these outlandish laws and the enforcers of them is
evidently very low. Riding the country of such policies would increase respect for law and
officers as well. Opponents to changes mainly argue that usage would go upsound reasoning in
economics because if something is more abundant, more people are likely to use it. In what has
been dubbed the Holland effect, statistics show that the Netherlands, with their legal coffeecannabis shops has maintained half the marijuana usage for both adults and teenagers compared
to the United States. The Netherlands succeeded in making pot boring. With the glamour of

defying the law gone, cannabis becomes merely a choice of health and personal preference. If
marijuana is found to have negative long-term health effects (illicit drugs are not well-studied by
academia because studies to do so are particularly difficult to get through the red tape), a simple
series of ad campaigns could enlighten the public just as was done with tobacco, which has seen
drastic reduction in use in the past decade or so. The costs of maintaining the War on Drugs have
surmounted the benefits of illegal status for these substances. Example after example shows this
quantitatively and qualitatively. The American public needs only to see the naked scales of costbenefit analysis to finally wake up to the racket that has been foisted upon their safety, their tax
dollars, and their freedom of choice.