If the next time you hear that America has a drug problem is the first time you’ve heard that America has a drug problem, you’ve either been in jail (possibly for drugs) or you’re systematically denying reality. Because, beyond a shadow of a doubt, America has a problem. And that problem, we can comfortably say without the slightest hesitation, is the perception that we have a problem.
Sure, according to a U.S. Department of Health report on illegal drug use in 2012, 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older, or about 9.2 percent of the U.S. population, used illegal drugs in the month prior to the survey. Sure, this figure is up from 7.1 percent in 2001. And surely we’d be much more comfortable having an airline pilot who was not on LSD than one who was, but it seems that in all the hubbub and hysteria, we’re missing the forest for the purple glowing trees.
The broader picture is this: We refuse to be honest about our drug use, we’re unwilling to alter our drug use patterns, and any efforts to change our ways just end up breeding head-shaking cynicism. A worldwide “yeah, whatever” engenders two separate conversations in the largest global consumer of illegal drugs: America. One conversation is among those we’d like to call “the Anti-Realists,” and is predicated on the passionately held belief that human behaviors are mutable. And to a certain degree they are. But people still smoke cigarettes, even though they know they should stop.
Wonderful irrationality, thy name is human.
The second conversation is the one we’re promoting here, and it’s being advanced by those we’ll call “the Pro-Realists.” It includes everyone from President Ronald Reagan’s economic adviser Milton Friedman to former mayor of Baltimore and dean of Howard University School of Law Kurt Schmoke, to rightward-leaning Hoover Institute’s Joseph McNamara and a host of others — libertarians and the High Times crowd alike. And it essentially makes the claim that we’re better off thinking of a realpolitik solution to this so-called problem than tilting at the windmills of eradication.
And to those who share tales of personal suffering and woe connected to illegal drug usage, the Pro-Realists counter that, while these costs are onerous, what we spend to fight them is even more so. So a solution emerges: loosening criminal penalties. From Colorado to Washington state, to Washington, D.C., to Portugal and Uruguay, decriminalizing drugs to a certain degree is a sensible experiment worthy of a trial.
Realize that drugs — like air, wind and rain — exist, manage that existence via taxation, refocus police efforts on other crimes, and watch the inevitable support industries (from rehab to corporate controls and manufacture) that will sprout up in the wake of a legal change.
Am I crazily suggesting that we solve this enormous problem by a simple semantic change, from illegal to legal? As though that simple change in perspective would totally alter our understanding of how drugs fit into the matrix of life here in America?
Why you should care
Because would you rather drugs be manufactured by corrupt criminals or by competent corporations? Yeah, that’s what we thought.