It seems at times as if the only thing worse than the perils of illegal drugs is the intemperance of the war against them.
The hysteria surrounding the war on drugs leads authorities to bust down doors to homes, leave footprints on the Constitution while searching motorists and their cars, and more.
Taxpayers just shelled out $4.1 million in a legal settlement to a California college student who was arrested during a drug raid in April 2012 and held in a windowless Drug Enforcement Administration room without food or water – for four and a half days. They appear to have forgotten he was there. The officer who put him in the room even told him he wouldn’t be charged and to “hang tight, we’ll come get you in a minute.”
In fact, he never was charged.
Daniel Chong, 25, drank his own urine to survive. He spent another five days in the hospital.
Then there’s the case of Elizabeth Daly.
The underaged University of Virginia student went to a Charlottesville, Va., store with a couple sorority sisters, and when they came out they were descended upon by a pack of menacing people. They scrambled to get away in their car, with one of the people on the hood and another trying to break in a window.
The pack turned out to be plainclothes alcohol control officers who thought they had nabbed some hardened young criminals with illegal alcohol. In fact, the girls had left the store after purchasing cookie dough, ice cream and a package of bottled water – which the agents apparently took to be demon beer.
Despite her innocence, Daly spent the night in jail for attempting to elude officers, though it’s clear to any sane person the girls thought they were being attacked. Felony charges against her were ultimately dropped, but the damage had been done; the girls were traumatized, and Daly spent a night in jail for the crime of buying supplies for a fundraiser.
While the latter case involved the fear of underage purchase of alcohol, the hysterical approach is the same as that of the drug war. In fighting it, in many ways we have created conditions that can only be described as a police state.
Having said that ...
Every time you start wondering about legalization, someone like James Grates Jr. comes along.
The 29-year-old Grovetown man was recently sentenced to five years in prison for a July 27, 2011, car crash that led to the death of his 3-year-old son.
Authorities say the boy was improperly secured in Grates’ truck when it careened into a concrete pole at between 50 and 60 mph.
The prosecutor says there were marijuana and methamphetamine in his system, and a witness said Grates had been on a two-day meth binge prior to the crash.
For a man who displayed such wanton recklessness with a child and with everyone else’s life on the road that day – and who had a criminal record that included burglary, manufacturing meth, battery, and driving under the influence – five years is a pittance.
But the tragedy is a reminder of how destructive illicit drugs can be – laws or no laws, drug war or no drug war.
It’s also worth noting that some of the worst drug problems we see today involve prescription pills – which are quite legal.
Intuition says laws prohibiting certain drugs retard their use. The evidence is mixed. A Forbes magazine article in 2011 noted that in the 10 years since decriminalization in Portugal, the number of hard-core addicts had decreased by about half.
Then again, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said last year that illicit drug use in the U.S. “has dropped substantially over the past 30 years,” and that “the rate of Americans using illicit drugs today is roughly one-third the rate it was in the late ’70s. More recently, there has been a 40 percent drop in current cocaine use and meth use has dropped by half,” The government credited “local, state and federal government efforts, as well as international cooperation.”
In short, the war on drugs.
The truth is, we just don’t know whether prohibition or legalization is the best course. With some U.S. states moving toward legal marijuana, perhaps they’ll be labs of social experimentation the rest of us can learn from.
For now, we can’t see giving up the struggle. We hate the police-state actions that come with the war on drugs, and they need to be reined in. But we despise the ruined lives from drugs even more.