Sunday, January 23, 2011

Throw Those Hands Up Already

So tonight I watched a CNBC documentary on Mexico's drug wars.  Not really a lot of new information in there for me, but one thing really got my blood boiling.  A Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security from the U.S. said that legalization was not an option, because "it would be like throwing our hands up and saying nothing can be done."

First, let's assume that that is actually the only message that legalizing marijuana on the federal level could send.  Alright.  So what?  Didn't we learn from Vietnam that sometimes, there is a point at which nothing can be done?  We are throwing good money after bad, and good lives after lives already lost in the war on drugs.  It has been about 30 years since Reagan and his wife began this war, and all we have seen is a steady rotation of the "in" drugs, a shift in production, processing and transit routes.  We show images of eggs that are supposed to be our brains, and fried eggs that are supposed to be our brains on drugs; we arrest kingpins.  We burn fields of coca and marijuana.  We destroy indigenous traditions in South American countries.  And what happens?  Drugs become more expensive as they become harder to get onto America's streets, the drug trade becomes more lucrative for those at the top of the pyramid, and they become more willing to do whatever it takes to make that money, leading to more lives lost.  The international drug trade and the organized crime it supports is the original multi-level marketing scheme, and it is not easily brought down.  These are like Avon or Mary Kay ladies with guns.  Is it such a bad thing to throw our hands up and say there's nothing that can be done?  If we spent that money on education about drugs, job creation, and fixing America's problems, maybe people would not be so desperate to escape their daily lives that they would do anything to get high.

Moreover, though, is the fact that the message sent by legalization would not necessarily be that we were giving up.  The message could, and should, be that after a lot of research and calculated thought, we realized that the policies pursued by our government, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, were wrong.  We've realized that while eradicating narcotics and their trafficking was a noble goal, it is simply too costly to do so.  Literally thousands of lives are lost each year on the streets of America, and in the streets of Latin America, because of our war on drugs.  How many lives has marijuana prohibition saved?  The argument most often used by those who acknowledge marijuana's relatively low health risks is that it is a gateway drug.  Why, though, is marijuana a gateway drug?  Probably because once people have started using marijuana, they are more inclined to go the next step.  After all, they already know dealers, and thus have access to hard drugs.  And they've already crossed the line of breaking the law.  So what's one step further into the realm of illegal drug use?  Well, legalization actually would eliminate both of these factors.  By outlawing pot, we are forcing people who are using a harmless substance (at least relative to alcohol, tobacco, and countless other legal and illegal substances) into a dark, underground world.  We are forcing them to make a choice to break the law, as well as to associate with potentially dangerous criminals.

If (or when) marijuana is legalized, potheads will be going to the corner store to get their fix, not to the corner where they will meet a dealer who also peddles crack, heroin, or meth.  They will have to make a conscious choice to cross the path of the law when progressing from marijuana to more serious, dangerous drugs.

If the government marketing/propaganda machine could convince us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, certainly they could convince us of the more accurate, and demonstrable, fact that our drug policies are costing more lives than they are saving.  Market it correctly and legalization doesn't have to be  a white flag of shameful surrender.

Either way, are our politicians and old-guard citizens allowing our pride to get in the way of smart decision making?  It's okay to admit that while we may be winning the battles, we are losing the war, and cut our losses.  It's also okay to admit that our policies were more harmful than they were helpful, and our costing our children, and the people of our "allies" lives every day.

Some people argue that marijuana legalization is a slippery slope.  Perhaps they're right.  Gay marriage, the repeal of DADT, and legalization may be the beginning of a slippery slope.  But hey, if we can all live happily doped up on heroin and marrying our donkeys, but still be alive, and know that innocent children are not being gunned down in Juarez or Bogota, maybe it's a slope we should be a little more open to sliding down.

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