Tidbits on Drug Policy

Another two cents thrown in

The Legitimacy of Drug Laws

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So, here’s an interesting dilemma:

Nearly 90% of 45-year-olds in the United States have tried an illegal drug in their lifetime. Source: Johnston LD, O’Malley PM, Bachman JG, et al. “Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975-2006. Vol II.” NIDA. 2007. 98. Under the current legal framework, all of those people are criminals.

Hmmm. When a law criminalizes such a large chunk of population, that means either something is wrong with that law or with the society.

Lets suppose our law is perfectly alright. Then, something has to be fundamentally wrong about the society in question. Well, whatever one says about our society, it is definitely one of the more viable ones – if it wasn’t, we simply wouldn’t have been around for this long.

Now, if there is a law that criminalizes some aspect of prevalent social behavior in a rather “normal” society, chances are the law is illegitimate. It simply doesn’t reflect the current social outlook on the behavior it seeks to criminalize. Take laws against jaywalking, for example – perfectly alright for Germany, where people seem to wait for green light even if no car is around, but completely ill-fitted for New York City. Such a law, in a society that is unprepared to obey it, would be either completely ineffective or completely oppressive.

Okay, – you would say, – but what about laws that are enacted with an idea of instilling better habits amongst the populace? Like, smoking bans, for example? Yeah, the society might not like it in the beginning, but – they will come around eventually and be better for it.

Fine! – I would say, – but who the hell are YOU to tell ME what behaviors I should be engaging in? Sorry, legal moralism and paternalism are not for me. Even if you prohibit me to do something with the utmost regard for my well-being, you are still prohibiting a sane adult to exercise his own free will. Now, if you are actually prohibiting something that a majority of the population engages in, we have a problem, since we all generally accept that a majority’s choice, regardless of its merits, rules. Ergo, laws that criminalize illegal drug consumption, are likely illegitimate.

And, here’s where we come to the dilemma.

Despite the fact that most people in the U.S. have tried an illicit drug in their lifetimes, most people in the U.S. are against repealing laws that criminalize illegal drug possession and consumption. Now, here’s a long-awaited people’s mandate! People do support these laws, even though these laws make most of their supporters criminals. Seems a little schizophrenic, doesn’t it?

Lets look at the source of the support: people seem to be generally against “drugs”. You and I might know that there is a world of difference between LSD, cocaine or heroin, but most people bundle them into one ominous category. That is the result of decades of government-sponsored effort to discourage truthful information about illicit drugs from reaching the public. Source:
Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Act. U.S. Code, Title 20, Ch. 70, Subch. IV, Pt A, Subpt 4, ยง 7162.
Hence, a gap between what people do and what people think. I would posit, that if people had access to truthful information, their position on drugs would change somewhat, or at least become more nuanced.

Democracy works only when the constituents are sufficiently informed to be able to make qualified decisions. Fear of illicit drugs makes for absurd laws prohibiting dissemination of truthful information, which, in turn, breed more fear of illicit drugs. Do you really think that people would support laws that could have thrown most of them in jail?

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