It’s been over five decades since the war on drugs began in the United States, and billions of dollars coerced from taxpayers have been spent on this frivolous operation. The General Accounting Office’s report found that the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program did not deter youth from drug abuse. How exactly has this war benefited taxpayers when drug use has increased, and more potent drugs are being consumed? Even the diabolical Charles Manson distributed drugs while imprisoned. Does one honestly think the government will eradicate drugs off the streets?
The mere suggestion of legalizing drugs causes many to accuse me of advocating drug abuse. I do not have any inclination to consume harmful drugs, and neither do I condone such behavior. My motivation for writing this article, however, is grounded in freedom. I hope that after reading this, people across the political spectrum will understand this objective. For people on the right, they should realize this war is unconstitutional. The Constitution does not grant the government control of what someone injects into their body. The state continues to extend its tentacles of power over its people, and the war on drugs is just one facet of that reality.
The state believes it has the prerequisites to decree what can and cannot be allowed, not just regarding drug policy but in our private lives as well. Lysander Spooner, the nineteenth-century theorist, argued that vices are not crimes: “Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.” You have total autonomy of your body, not the government or anyone else. This should hopefully register with individuals on the left. Today’s political climate has forced citizens into a political dichotomy with no room outside the uniparty’s parameters. Most politically passionate people fail to realize that they share quite a bit of similarities with their supposed “enemies.” It’s not Left versus Right; it’s the state versus you!
Many today disregard the significant number of deaths caused by alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs. A considerable number of people abuse these substances, but drug warriors seem to disregard these addictions. Alcohol is a form of drug and can be dangerous when consumed as it affects people differently. On average, 140,000 people die every year from this beverage. Prescription drugs claim 16,500 lives per year. Tobacco consumption is the foremost cause of preventable deaths at an astounding 480,000 deaths annually. One can consider food to be a drug, and its abuse leads to a multitude of health issues. Heart disease, being one of those issues, is the leading cause of death in America.
The government doesn’t care about your well-being or privacy; it only wishes for complete control over you. Financial privacy has even been encroached upon by the state due to the drug war. Deposits of more than $10,000 in the bank are reported to the Internal Revenue Service even though it’s your money. If you are pulled over with a substantial amount of cash, the police can confiscate your money under civil asset forfeiture laws. Essentially, you are guilty until you prove your money was legally acquired. They can slander your name for simply transporting cash. Police, on countless occasions, have been found planting drugs on one’s person or vehicle. By ending the war on drugs, the accused can be protected from these pernicious acts.
In 2003, the life of a young man, Weldon Angelos, was ruined by the war’s idiocy. An undercover informant made several purchases from Angelos involving minimal amounts of weed. The informant claimed Angelos possessed a gun, despite one never being brandished or used. Initially, Angelos would have been imprisoned for a day, but federal law required fifty-five years due to a gun being present during the transactions. Presiding over the case, Judge Paul Cassell was so distraught at handing down this absurd sentence that he later petitioned for Angelos’ release. An actual criminal who had committed child rape, second-degree murder, or an aircraft hijacking would have had a shorter sentence than Angelos. After public outrage, Angelos was released in 2016 and pardoned in 2020. Unfortunately, there are many stories like Angelos’ across our country.
Due to the irreparable harm from Richard Nixon’s war, the US has the world’s largest prison population. China has almost half as many incarcerated individuals. When comparing China’s population to America’s, this is an astounding statistic. In 2020, over a million people were arrested for using or possessing illicit drugs. The government and the police will be further strengthened as they wage their unjust war, while citizens are terrified of false accusations. To clarify, I am not arguing that a person on drugs who hurts or steals from someone should not be in jail. There should be no leniency for these violent crimes. Harm done to people and property are crimes, not vices. To help solve the drug epidemic, however, one should realize this war has not worked.
There are a few countries that have pursued intriguing alternatives to this crisis. The Netherlands has decriminalized cannabis possession of less than five grams. Psychedelic mushrooms were made illegal in the Netherlands in 2008, yet users found with small quantities are not criminally charged. In Switzerland, they adopted a policy of helping their drug-addicted citizens instead of fighting drugs. For the past two decades, the Swiss have implemented drug-consumption rooms and needle exchange programs. By providing clean needles to users, this reduces the risk of infections. Because of these measures, HIV infections have declined at a significant rate, and Hepatitis C cases have continued to decrease since 2002. Consumers at drug-consumption rooms are watched to prevent overdoses. Facility employees make connections with these individuals without stigmatizing them. Users are more comfortable with what they inject at drug facilities compared to what they may find on the streets.
Portugal has arguably been the most prominent trailblazer in drug policy reform. In 2001, they decriminalized all drugs, treating it as a health-conscious issue rather than a criminal one. Individuals possessing less than a ten-day supply of any drug will not be punished with prison time but will usually be sent to a commission for recovery treatment options. The European Union’s average rate of drug-related deaths is five times higher than Portugal’s. From 1998 to 2011, drug treatment attendees in Portugal increased by 60 percent. This result is encouraging because Portuguese citizens are seeking help, rather than fearing incarceration.
An ample portion of US states and cities have changed their tune on drug legalization based on the positive results from the aforementioned countries. Marijuana used for medical purposes is currently legal in thirty-eight states, while recreational use is permitted in twenty-two states. In 2021, the city of Seattle approved legislation decriminalizing psychedelics, which mirrors the policies of Oakland and Santa Cruz. Similar to Portugal’s revolutionary policy, Oregon has adopted legislation that will not criminally charge individuals with small quantities of any drug but will instead enforce a hundred dollar fine. Although there is much to improve in America’s drug policy, these states and cities are taking a closer step toward allowing citizens the freedom to choose what they can consume. Hopefully, all states can learn from these drug pioneers, domestic and abroad, that are helping addicts rather than waging an irrational crusade against their people.