The War on Drugs

Posted on December 19, 2013


(in response to a university student’s request for my opinions)

Opinions? Basically, in my opinion there are too many opinions and not enough facts.
That being said I believe that the groundwork for any policies has to begin with an unprejudicial examination of the conditions that actually exist and an understanding of how they came to be.
First, economically. The United States and most of the rest of the world operate economically on what loosely is termed “free market” strategy. Simplified, this creates a supply and demand dynamic—with the demand side always coming first. Demand creates activity and wealth is generated by supplying the demand. The commerce in cocaine, marijuana and other narcotics is a classic case of supply and demand. The demand (in the U.S.) is great; supplying that demand is profitable. Free market economy.
But in this case non-market forces interfere. Contrary to its free market philosophy the U.S. has thrust a protectionist wall across the free market movement. It has tried to cut off supply but the dynamic—demand/supply—hasn’t been altered. Consequently the suppliers have become more inventive, more competitive, more militarized. The demand continues. The supply continues. And over 120,000 people have lost their lives.
It’s important to realize that free market economics is amoral. It’s based on finances—mathematics—not feelings. The only way the demand-supply paradigm can be changed is by altering—diminishing—the demand or running out of the item to be supplied. Narcotics use will continue in the U.S.—and in Europe, Asia, etc.—as long as the demand exists. This is a basic premise on which any policy has to be based.
I believe one also has to lay a firm groundwork for considering narcotics a “public health issue.” A lot of confusion abounds.
It’s important to distinguish what is “public health” and what is “personal health.” Marijuana and cocaine can be addictive—they are not necessarily so. The main reason demand for them has diminished only slightly is because the majority of consumers aren’t addicts. As with alcohol addiction there are many who regularly—habitually—use marijuana or cocaine and who function quite well in society: college professors, real estate entrepreneurs, legislators, mechanics, psychologists, etc. Though their personal health may be affected they are not by definition contagious: The health issue is the same as it would be if they suffered from drinking too many colas, ate too much saturated fat, failed to exercise.
The idea of drug use as a health issue is tied to criminality and the belief that by de-criminalizing drug use society could focus on treatment. But the concept carries with it a strong moral message: drugs are evil. And with the concept came a popular perception that drug users are addicts and addicts are criminals, hence they need to be “saved” as church people feel they must “save” non-believers. Some years ago a study took U.S. estimates for the amount of cocaine brought into the U.S. and divided it by the estimated number of addicts/users. Wow! The addicts/users had to be absorbing enough cocaine every day to kill a small horse! (Or, the study hypothesized, there are many, many more purchasers/users than were being estimated.)
Drugs are not a public health problem. Drug misuse/abuse can be defined as such. Where I live in Oaxaca in southern Mexico, cola drinks, junk food and saturated fats are a greater problem. Mexico has the highest diabetes rate in the world. Should then there be an international Coca-Cola, Doritos, bacon policy?
Another study (unfortunately I can’t cite the source so you’ll have to take this also as “opinion”) noted that over 90 percent of drug-related violent crimes (ie robbery, assault, etc.) were committed by persons who belonged to the lowest economic income status (i.e. they committed crimes to get money for drugs while those in higher brackets didn’t have to commit crimes to purchase the marijuana, cocaine, etc. that they wanted). Which leads me to suggest that world poverty is a greater world health issue that drug use/abuse.
Like many people I reluctantly advocate legalization being witness to what attempts at repression have done to this country (Mexico). I think a lot of angles would have to be worked out, including defining each type of narcotic individually and giving allowance for national or communal beliefs and customs. But anything would be better than what we have now.
Perhaps this will serve as a good start for dialog.

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