By the middle of 1944, Japan and Germany had lost World War II. The smart thing for the Germans and Japanese to do would have been to seek peace. Instead, these countries continued in a useless prolongation of the war, causing thousands if not millions of useless deaths and tremendous destruction.
America needs to take a lesson from this. The War on Drugs has been fought hard and we have lost. It is time to declare defeat and try something else.
The drug laws are hurting people far more than the drugs themselves. Drugs do have a deleterious impact on an individual. That impact can be both mental and physical. Fortunately, the body and mind can normally recover from the worst effects. But the criminalization of drugs can have a devastating and permanent effect.
First, the cost of drugs is far higher than it would be if they were legal. This forces a drug user to spend an increasing amount of money to feed his habit. That need for money often leads to crime and/or drug dealing.
Second, there is no quality control on street drugs. Often these drugs are adulterated, too strong or too weak. That leads to rip-offs, overdose and death.
Third, drug users must deal with gangs and crime syndicates. Drug users often get caught up in violence, blackmail and coercion.
Fourth, when a user is caught he will spend time in jail and/or on probation. He will often lose his license to drive and be required to pay large fines, court and probation costs. This can be a life breaker.
Fifth, the market for drugs in the U.S. is exporting violence to Central and South America. Drug lords in these countries would not exist without the money to be made from illegal drug sales in the USA. Finally, drug users acquire a criminal record. This can devastate job prospects.
All of these effects contribute to a person’s slide into permanent criminal activity and/or a ruined life. The actual costs to society are huge. At least half of the court cases that I see are drug related. The opportunity costs from ruined lives and job prospects are tremendous. All of this is not because of drug use per se; but because the drugs are illegal.
Advocates of criminalization will cite the deterrent effect of drug laws. There may be some such effect. But the widespread use of illegal drugs proves the deterrent effect to be small to nonexistent.
The heart and soul of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is compassion. If a member of the church were to confess drug use to his or her bishop, I would bet the farm that the bishop would not send him off to jail. Instead, that bishop would utilize every asset of the church and community to help him beat his addiction. The state should emulate the church.
Also, is this really an area where government belongs? The drug laws are attempting to prevent people from hurting themselves. If people want to hurt themselves, I am not sure that government should interfere. After all, we eat too much, exercise too little, consume too much caffeine, play too many video games, sleep too little or a myriad of other failings, should government be sticking its nose into those areas of our lives? Recreational drug use is a perfect example of teaching people correct principles and letting them govern themselves.
Legalizing medical marijuana should be a no-brainer. There are medically verified benefits to marijuana and its derivatives. Plus, these drugs would be administered by the traditional gatekeepers of all dangerous drugs – doctors. Doctors currently prescribe far more dangerous and addictive drugs than marijuana. Denying doctors the ability to recommend marijuana is like giving doctors access to a 155 mm cannon and then refusing to let them handle a .22 caliber rifle.
I would therefore urge a “yes” vote on Proposition 2, to allow medical marijuana use in Utah. Defeating Prop 2 is not going to stop or even slow down marijuana use. Passing it allows us to apply our efforts to helping people instead of hurting them.
Sam Primavera, Orem, is an attorney, engineer and history geek.