Decriminalizing Marijuana: The Sky Is Not Falling

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On some issues, Europeans have the right idea, while Americans are misled. In many important areas concerning liberty — such as political and economic liberty, in particular the commitment to free (as opposed to regulated) markets, and the right to keep and bear arms — the Americans have the right idea.

In that regard, the British have taken a step ahead of their former colonies in moving toward an end to the disastrous "war on drugs." This "war" has consumed untold billions of dollars, while at the same time resulted in a decrease in individual liberty.

Although one might be inclined to think that the "war on drugs" has not decreased the liberty of those who do not use illegal drugs, in reality, the "war on drugs" has allowed the state to strip away constitutional protections which, one hopes, would otherwise have remained intact. This is true not only in the USA, but in Europe as well.

Thus, the UK Home Secretary, David Blunkett, surprised observers by calling for "adult, intelligent debate" on the subject.

Blunkett’s Home Office is in charge of domestic policies in England and Wales. The Home Office slogan is "Building a Safe, Just and Tolerant Society."

As the Independent reports,

Mr Blunkett first hinted at his position last month when he described as an "interesting experiment" a pilot police project in Lambeth, south London, to caution instead of arrest those in possession of small amounts of the drug.

Last week, [former Tory party deputy leader] Mr [Peter] Lilley called for cannabis to be legalised and sold through licensed outlets, prompting speculation that the Conservatives might become the first of the main political parties to call for the decriminalisation of soft drugs. Michael Portillo, who is backed by Mr Lilley in the leadership race, said the issue would be considered during a policy review if he became party leader.

Although governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico has called for such a debate in the United States, no cabinet-level federal official has made a similar call. In contrast, the Independent also notes that "Sir David Ramsbotham, the outgoing chief inspector of prisons, became the latest senior figure to call for the drug’s decriminalisation," and that "Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and Lord Baker of Dorking, both former home secretaries, also joined the growing campaign to change the operation of the current law." In other words, there appears to be broad, growing support in Britain for a sensible approach to marijuana.

Of course, not all of Blunkett’s statements are worth adopting. For example, the Independent adds that

Sir David, who has monitored the Government’s drugs policies in prisons, said that decriminalisation was needed to cut the profits of drugs barons. "The more I think about it and the more I look at what’s happening, the more I can see the logic of legalising drugs, because the misery that is caused by the people who are making criminal profit is so appalling. I think there is merit in legalising and prescribing, so people don’t have to go and find an illegal way of doing it," he said.

It is indeed true that the Prohibition-style approach to marijuana — and other drugs — has made it wildly more profitable for drug runners and producers. Prices must rise in relation to scarcity, as well as the risks of confiscation, prison, and death. In contrast, decriminalizing marijuana would decrease the gigantic profits caused by Prohibition.

My disagreement with Blunkett, then, concerns the need to "prescribe" marijuana, as if it were medication. Unfortunately, it appears that some who will end Prohibition will only do so in exchange for a different, arguably more benign form of control.

Will Americans stick with Prohibition?

Hey, it worked for alcohol.

Mr. Dieteman [send him mail] is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

© 2001 David Dieteman

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