My thoughts on the state of the law surrounding illegal drugs are below:

I’ll start out by saying that I’m not a drug user, and never have been, for several reasons.  First, I don’t like my mind to be impaired by drugs.  I don’t find that feeling to be enjoyable, and many of my hobbies (cars, motorcycles, flying light aircraft, SCUBA diving, blogging) are not compatible with an altered state of mind.  Indeed, I dislike mental impairment so much that I declined to take Vicodin after having my wisdom teeth removed, and instead toughed it out with Tylenol.  Secondly, drugs are addictive, and I don’t wish to become addicted to any substance.  Thirdly, the penalties for being caught in possession of drugs are severe, and I don’t want to tarnish my good name with a criminal conviction.  Finally, drugs are a waste of money.  I would much rather spend my hard earned money on something useful.  With that out of the way, allow me to explain my thoughts on our drug laws.

Prohibition, the banning of alcohol, ended 75 years ago in the United States. Sadly, we as a country seem to have forgotten its most important lesson: Banning a popular product doesn’t work. Rather than obeying the ban, many Americans just purchased illegal alcohol.  The bootlegging industry boomed, and gangsters like Al Capone made a fortune.  The government lost out on valuable tax revenue, and instead had to spend money on the hopeless cause of suppressing the bootlegging industry.  Enriched by their liquor sales, the gangsters become more and more powerful – and more and more violent.  The end result was that Americans still drank alcohol, but it was less safe to consume, and criminals became more powerful then ever thanks to soaring bootlegging profits.  The American public eventually realized this, and repealed prohibition.  Liquor sales returned to stores and bars, where they could be heavily taxed, and the heyday of the gangsters came to an end.

Unfortunately, we as a country have forgotten this lesson.  Today, illegal drugs are banned, yet there seems to be no shortage of drugs in the United States or other countries.  Just as the gangsters from years past got rich off of bootlegging, today’s criminal gangs (and terrorists) make a fortune supplying illegal drugs.  Wherever these gangs go, violence follows, with innocent people often getting caught in the crossfire.  Those who support our current drug laws will say that drugs are dangerous for their users, and destroy lives.  I think that is certainly true for some drugs, however a ban on drugs clearly isn’t working.  Also note that, non-drug-using people such as myself can avoid the dangers of smoking crack by just not using it; however I can’t really avoid the danger of being shot while driving down the street by drug dealing gang members who mistake me for some rival, or who just have bad aim. Worse yet, searching for drugs has become an excuse for cops to kick down the wrong people’s front doors, leading to a situation where innocent people (and cops) pay a heavy price.  Recovering some marijuana just isn’t worth a citizen’s life, a cop’s life, or the innocent family’s dog’s life.

Our drug laws also end up permanently branding young drug users as criminals, which can prevent them from moving on to become productive members of society.  For example, even the most minor drug offenses can prevent a student from getting financial aid for school.  That law has prevented over 200,000 Americans from being able to receive financial aid since it went into effect in 2000.  It would seem to me that keeping a person out of higher education might make them more likely to abuse drugs, and seems to undermine our societal interest in turning young people educated and law abiding citizens.  Similarly, a felony drug conviction when a person is 18 years old can have long lasting effects upon their ability to get a job for the rest of their life.

As far as a comprehensive solution to the drug situation, I don’t pretend to have one.  I wouldn’t want to see crack cocaine sold over the counter at stores, but I also think that our current war on drugs isn’t in society’s best interest.  At the very least, I think that we need to put an end to policies that result in police raiding the wrong homes, as well as laws that prevent drug users from cleaning up their lives, going to school, and then becoming employed and productive members of society.