Drug Legalization: A New Approach

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It’s been more than twenty years since the War on Drugs has been commenced, at the official level. It’s been several decades since the white-washed absurdity of the earlier phase of the government’s war on this kind of freedom was seen through.

It’s also been more than twenty years since the cry of "prohibition" has been flung around by an eclectic group of people, all of whom want an end to the visible effect of the War on Drugs. Seizure of property, increasing government intrusion into privacy, raids that could have served as a real-world inspiration for the plots of 24, and other incursions of liberty, less publicized. If this goes on, the DEA might very well end up becoming a secret police force.

Canada has a different dynamic with respect to this issue. The most alarming incident relating to the War of Drugs consisted not of innocent citizens being rousted, or worse, but the murder of four RCMP officers, the most who have ever been killed in a single RCMP operation in Canada’s history, almost. So, any Canadian strategy would have to be profoundly different from one directed at the United States — perhaps.

Unfortunately, the strategies that have been pursued by the advocates of drug legalization haven’t exactly been the most efficacious.

Yes, There Is Truth On Both Sides, Thou Castigat

The old strategy, based upon the initial lies and hysteria surrounding illicit drugs, was rooted in the assumption that the Drug Warriors were at heart hypocrites. Despite the Menckenesque twist in it, its heart was Christian: the Drug Warriors are pharisaical.

The beginning of the end of this phase was roughly marked by an article and its sequel, which I still remember, from the beginning of the 1980s: "Marijuana Alert," a two-part series in the Reader’s Digest documenting the claimed risks of long-term marijuana use. Even if some of its claims have proved to be exaggerated, as well as shown to be deficient on methodological grounds, it was sufficiently credible to make the "thou hypocrite" strategy begin to fall apart.

Why? Because acting as Christ, in that way, only works when the truth is unambiguously on the side of the aspersion-caster. If the presumed Pharisees in the drama have solid ground to stand on, they can wiggle out of the "hypocrite" stigma very easily:

"Yes, I did do drugs when a youth. That’s because I was sufficiently foolhardy to need a lesson, administered the hard way." Bye-bye Pharisee; hello bandwagon. Those legalization advocates who had delighted in the sight of Drug Warriors’ children indulging in various illicit substances seem to have missed this angle. As long as there are any proven hazards to the use of illicit drugs, the "hypocrite" strategy will lead to nothing more than a Mexican standoff, thus perpetuating the War on Drugs, not ending it.

The Squeeze Play: "I Don’t Use Drugs, But…"

The reason why this strategy is politically proven to be ineffectual, after long political trials, is because the argument from disinterested principle is easy to wave away. Americans tend to trust self-interest in politics; such arguments always invite the question, "then why do you even bother?"

People who are motivated purely on principle tend to form cohesive movements; such is true. The reason why such a strategy was launched is easy to see: "addict" is a real insult to people who believe in free will. By taking it as a huge insult, though, the legalization advocates, including myself, have just made the insult far more potent. Fear of being labeled an "addict" is a large attribute of the legalization movement; the Drug Warriors know it. It says, to them, that the advocates of repeal are politically weak. Not only has the Weberite approach failed to stop even greater incursions into liberty, it’s also thrown the tobacco smokers to the wolves, too.

Something to remember: if the American colonists had decided to protest the British incursions into liberty by saying, "we have no interest in breaking the King’s law, but we protest most strongly the Stamp Act [or any other]," where would America be now?

A Better Approach: Factionalization

"The Drug Warrior faction." This is the ticket out of the trap. If it can be demonstrated to the average American that the proponents of crackdown on illicit drugs are a mere faction, with a factional interest, then their own air of disinterested service will begin to erode. There is a scientifically plausible way to do it — ironically, thanks to a crusty old British doctor, "Theodore Dalrymple." His own clinical experience has shown him that the danger of addiction to the supposedly most addictive drug class of them all — opiates — is far overstated. This implies that the Drug Warrior faction is composed of addictive personalities. They are like Franklin Gibbs, the foe of gambling and secret gambling addict himself, in the old Twilight Zone episode, "The Fever."

It’s clear from that episode that Rev. Gibbs’ hostility to gambling, period, is the consequence of his own addictive personality. We don’t know why some people are that way, but they are, and thus are part of the high-risk category for addiction to anything, whether legal or illegal. It’s just a personality attribute of the real analogs to Rev. Gibbs.

It is possible that many lawmakers possess addictive personalities, hence their continual rallying around the Drug Warrior flag. The Drug Warrior’s continual harping about "loss of potential" does suggest that the addictive personality is also a workaholic — that such a person is a work addict.

If so, then the best way towards repeal would be to promote the idea that workaholics are addictive personalities at heart. As such, they tend to believe even slanted stories about the risks of addictive drugs, because they themselves know about that side to them. The Drug Warriors among them use the laws to make life less troublesome, for the Drug Warriors themselves, their friends and their likesake.

To put it bluntly, the Drug Warrior has a special interest, rooted in his or her own psyche. Exposure of it will make the War on Drugs far less noble a cause.

Daniel M. Ryan [send him mail] is a Canadian whose reach has long exceeded his grasp. He’s currently wearing out his thumb with pen and paper.

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