Sunday, June 24, 2007

The "war" on drugs

Virtually every scientific study on marijuana since the 1890's has found it to be relatively harmless, certainly no worse than alcohol. Why, then, one might ask, are our prisons and jails continually overloaded with prisoners in them for no other "crime" than marijuana? I personally have known ever since 1945, through experience, observation, and the literature, that marijuana is not addictive, no more harmful than alcohol, and in some cases actually useful for controlling pain. Yet it continues to be labeled a dangerous drug on the same level with cocaine, opium, and morphine. How can this be explained?

If you want to know I refer you to a truly fine and enlightening book on the history of drug use and legislation, Drug Crazy, by Mike Gray (Random House, 1998). It is by now common knowledge that the "war" on drugs has been a miserable failure. Billions upon billions have been wasted on the attempt to stop the flow of drugs, the result being that drugs are more available then ever, and less expensive than ever. In 1989 Studs Terkel pointed out that after seventy years of trying to control the drug trade it was possible to walk out of the White House and procure drugs right across the street. What transpired to bring this dismal sitation about?

In a nutshell, prior to 1914 drug use and addiction was regarded as strictly a medical problem. Doctors were free to prescribe drugs to anyone who needed them. For reasons that Gray makes clear the government changed the drug situation from a medical one to a political one, which it has remained ever since. The one surefire way to solve this horrendous problem is simple - legalize drugs, all of them. Return the problem back to the medical profession and get it out of politics. I am not naive enough to believe that our Congress would be up to such a common sense and simple solution to such a monumental problem, but I have no doubt this is the only sensible solution. I have always known that the laws against marijuana were absurd, but now, having seen further information, and more and more books on the subject, I think all drugs should be legal and available on demand to those who need them. When people like the ex Chief of Police of Seattle say drugs should be made legal it does make you think about it. And he is by no means the only law officer that thinks this way. Our draconian and misleading drug laws over the past century have caused more misery, more crime, more domestic trauma, and more unnecessarily wasted lives than virtually anything else we have done. This makes the previous prohibition on alcohol look like child's play. Hopefully, as more and more people are coming to realize this, perhaps something constructive will someday ensue (but don't hold your breath).


"All good books have one thing in common -- they are truer than if they had really happened, and after you've read one of them you will feel all that happened, happened to you and then it belong to you forever: the happiness and unhappiness, good and evil, ecstasy and sorrow, the food, wine, beds, people, and the weather."
Ernest Hemingway

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