From the Left: Legalizing marijuana is only step one
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 00:02
The recent public hearings on the New Hampshire General Court’s possible passage of legislation that would legalize, decriminalize, or make marijuana medically available shows that we New Englanders continue to be leaders in issues of civil liberties. If our nation’s glorious Constitution (and dare I say, the spirit of liberty that it embodies?) speaks of anything, it speaks of inalienable autonomy, of the right of each citizen to do with his life and to his body as he sees fit. There is no reason for our current drug policies. If we want to stay true to our cultural ethos, we need to change our laws: we need to legalize drugs — from marijuana to crack-cocaine and heroin, and everything in between — in order to rein in our out-of-control police spending and reaffirm our devotion to liberty.
What evidence is there that prohibition of any kind works? One needs only to look at our own drug policies and compare them to those in other countries that have been taken. In Britain, where the the single-payer National Health Service allows drug users to give hospitals their used needles in exchange for sanitized ones. As a result, HIV transmission and infections associated with needle usage plummeted, as addicts were no longer using, re-using, and sharing needles amongst each other and for multiple drugs. The number of addicts to drugs that require (or can be taken with) a needle decreased by a striking 54 percent. The cost of supplying these hospitals with clean needles is only a fraction of the outrageous strain that emergency medicine requires when treating overdose and withdrawal. In the end, England was able to save money by focusing on preventative care and public health, rather than emergency care and a budget-busting police state.
Portugal is a unique case: the drug reform that went into effect in summer of 2001 decriminalized all drugs. While drug trafficking and distribution is still considered a criminal offense, their usage and ownership was changed to an “administrative” one, roughly equivalent to small misdemeanor here in the United States, and is treated as a medical condition rather than a federal crime. This is coupled with a needle exchange program in their local pharmacies, modeled after the hospital program that the British have, that also comes in a kit fully equipped with rubbing alcohol, condoms and information on HIV transmission and treatment. They also took the money that their police forces were saving by not arresting small-time drug offenders and invested in their healthcare system, building additional rehabilitation and treatment facilities across the nation.
The results? An astounding drop in drug usage by 49 percent. By treating drug addiction as a medical issue and enacting bold, progressive policies, the number of drug users has nearly been cut in half. With our Nixon-era war on drugs having cost us over $1.5 trillion in police enforcement and judicial bureaucracy, it is time for a different approach. The fact that we have increased spending on the war on drugs nearly ten times over, despite a stubborn rate of illicit drug addiction at 1.3 to 2 percent that has refused to go down, shows that throwing more money at the issue is not a solution. We shouldn’t just shower our police in taxpayer money and intensify the legal penalty; we should be smart about how and where we spend our tax dollars. Spending them on preventative healthcare and rehabilitation is both logical and fiscally responsible.
Drug profits are extraordinarily high because they exist in the black market; because drug dealers are not able to use the property law and legal contracts to enforce their deals, they are compelled to enforce their deals through non-legal means, primarily through violence. Those who finance drug traffickers by providing transportation, guns, crude chemicals, and safe houses are able to take part in an international industry that constitutes 8 percent of the global economy. Cannabis provides only an estimated 25 percent of cartels’ revenue at most; by legalizing it and taxing it as we do with alcohol, it would inject approximately $10 billion in consumer spending into the economy in the first year alone. A legalization-and-taxation policy for cannabis, coupled with a legalization-and-rehabilitation program for hard drugs, would render our national and international black markets obsolete. Numerous economists estimate that it would bring in up to an astounding $100 billion in federal revenue if it is taxed and sold like alcohol, and the additional state employees necessary to grow, cultivate, distribute, and sell it would support up to 75 jobs per state county, on average. This would yield a quarter-million new jobs overnight.
Of course, many will argue that we should not legalize drugs; this will encourage usage and normalize addictions to hard drugs, they say, and will cause more problems than solutions. But which system is better: the one that compassionately rehabilitates addicts and teaches them to be productive and contributing members of society, or the one wherein the state yanks children away from their parents by throwing the former into a corruption-riddled foster-home system and the later into an inhumane prison-industrial complex?
Which one encourages accountability, responsibility and liberty? The answer is clear.
A market for illicit drugs will always exist; whether or not we make it a criminal black market or a legal, regulated one is something that we, as a country, have to answer. If we continue the budget-busting policies that spawn gang violence and allow our civil liberties to be eroded by ever-expanded police powers, we can go with the former. If we want to retain our freedom and keep our fiscal house in order, then we need to legalize all drugs.
Dan Fournier is a pre-medical undergraduate majoring in evolutionary biology. He considers himself to be a left-wing progressive and liberty-minded individual.