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The War On Stupidity
Let's make former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper the general. He wrote an Op-Ed piece in yesterday's LA Times about the idiocy of the drug war:

Yes, I was a cop for 34 years, the last six of which I spent as chief of Seattle's police department.

But no, I don't favor decriminalization. I favor legalization, and not just of pot but of all drugs, including heroin, cocaine, meth, psychotropics, mushrooms and LSD.

Decriminalization, as my colleagues in the drug reform movement hasten to inform me, takes the crime out of using drugs but continues to classify possession and use as a public offense, punishable by fines.

I've never understood why adults shouldn't enjoy the same right to use verboten drugs as they have to suck on a Marlboro or knock back a scotch and water.

Prohibition of alcohol fell flat on its face. The prohibition of other drugs rests on an equally wobbly foundation. Not until we choose to frame responsible drug use — not an oxymoron in my dictionary — as a civil liberty will we be able to recognize the abuse of drugs, including alcohol, for what it is: a medical, not a criminal, matter.

As a cop, I bore witness to the multiple lunacies of the "war on drugs." Lasting far longer than any other of our national conflicts, the drug war has been prosecuted with equal vigor by Republican and Democratic administrations, with one president after another — Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush — delivering sanctimonious sermons, squandering vast sums of taxpayer money and cheerleading law enforcers from the safety of the sidelines.

It's not a stretch to conclude that our draconian approach to drug use is the most injurious domestic policy since slavery. Want to cut back on prison overcrowding and save a bundle on the construction of new facilities? Open the doors, let the nonviolent drug offenders go. The huge increases in federal and state prison populations during the 1980s and '90s (from 139 per 100,000 residents in 1980 to 482 per 100,000 in 2003) were mainly for drug convictions. In 1980, 580,900 Americans were arrested on drug charges. By 2003, that figure had ballooned to 1,678,200. We're making more arrests for drug offenses than for murder, manslaughter, forcible rape and aggravated assault combined. Feel safer?

...Combined with treatment, education and other public health programs for drug abusers, regulated legalization would make your city or town an infinitely healthier place to live and raise a family.

It would make being a cop a much safer occupation, and it would lead to greater police accountability and improved morale and job satisfaction.

But wouldn't regulated legalization lead to more users and, more to the point, drug abusers? Probably, though no one knows for sure — our leaders are too timid even to broach the subject in polite circles, much less to experiment with new policy models. My own prediction? We'd see modest increases in use, negligible increases in abuse.

The demand for illicit drugs is as strong as the nation's thirst for bootleg booze during Prohibition. It's a demand that simply will not dwindle or dry up. Whether to find God, heighten sexual arousal, relieve physical pain, drown one's sorrows or simply feel good, people throughout the millenniums have turned to mood- and mind-altering substances.

They're not about to stop, no matter what their government says or does. It's time to accept drug use as a right of adult Americans, treat drug abuse as a public health problem and end the madness of an unwinnable war.

I've never understood how the government has any right to tell you what you can and cannot put in your body.

Posted by aalkon at October 17, 2005 9:39 AM

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This is supremely ridiculous. With all the efforts to halt drunk driving, people still do it, and they still kill others when they do.

Now imagine, for a moment, a drugged driver.

The clumsiness of enforcement efforts are not a measure of the desirability of allowing widespread drug use.

You have seen and/or heard tales of people on a rampage following their use of PCP. You want this? Just what recourse do you think there is for the victim of such a slug?

Posted by: Radwaste at October 17, 2005 2:08 AM

Well, the fact is that we currently HAVE drugged drivers and people on PCP rampages. We also have cancer patients being arrested for using the one thing that both reduces their pain and gives them an appetite. . . .

Posted by: jenl at October 17, 2005 3:53 AM

Enforcement does not stop people from using drugs. It simply clogs the courts and the jails and further ruins lives. I have had the option of using drugs all my life. And drinking. My parents always offered us alcohol when my dad had some -- be it wine or liqueur -- so it held no interest for me. You see the same sort of thing in France -- moderate drinking, not binge drinking. I have limited experience in Holland. But, it calls to mind the way a friend (who lives in the heart of Venice, Californai -- the druggy part) raised his kid -- with openness and honesty about drugs. He never got into them either.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 17, 2005 6:07 AM

I'm definitely not an expert in law but I have a few political theories. One of those being that government is a representation of the majority (or cultural norms) with enough choices to allow for change. Take, for example, homosexual marriage. Would anyone even consider legalizing the institution 50 years ago? NO, because it was a taboo and a vast majority of the population was anti-homosexual. Yet today the issue is on the table. What changed? More people are coming out and homosexuality very much more accepted and will most likely become more and more accepted.
Now think for a minute about drug abuse. Is that a currently accepted practice in the US or other parts of the world? NO. Will it ever be? I hope not for the future of our nation. I am a young physician and I have seen the effects of highly psychologically and physically addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine on people. I would never wish for that to be an accepted practice. People need these rules and boundaries to know that this is not an accepted practice or a cultural norm. Will they continue to push these boundaries? Always. But do you tell your children that it's OK to ride their bike w/o a helmet? Is it OK for a 3 year old to sit in the front seat of a car w/o proper restraints. I am not saying that America is made up of children but I am saying that we need these boundaries for our culture to be able to say that this is not an accepted practice. Marijuana is another story...

Posted by: Jaime at October 17, 2005 9:19 AM

yeah, I think I'm with Jaime. I thought this was a well-written and interesting piece, and it's ludicrous to stop use of medical marijuana. But I'm afraid that total legalization would cause a strong increase in all types of drug usage by all types of people, probably many of them parents, health workers and all sorts of other people who are responsible for having good judgement and good reflexes. It just doesn't seem like a good idea to have significantly more people driving around and hanging around in various altered states, and it would certainly cause more expermentation by kids if it was more accessible. Perhaps they could start with marijuana, and then see how that works out.

Posted by: Pat Saperstein at October 17, 2005 11:13 AM

Before we give in to the Prophets of Propaganda, let
us take a moment to consider the history of American
drug use (and culture). During the 1800s multiple
patent medicines and common products (see early
history of Coke) were widely available. While a
portion of the population became addicted to these
potions a large part did not. Moreover, as an
observation, numerous sources actually approved
substitution of a different addiction to that of
alcohol. In a paper from the 1889 Cincinnati
Lancet-Clinic “Advantages of Substituting the Morphia
Habit for the Incurably Alcoholic” notes:

[Morphine] is less inimical to healthy life than
alcohol... [It] calms in place of exciting the baser
passions, and hence is less productive of acts of
violence and crime; in short-the use of morphine in
place of alcohol is but a choice of evils, and by far
the lesser-On the score of economy the morphine habit
is by far the better.

Getting back on point: in short, the world did not
fall apart when given (basically) unlimited access to
currently illicit substances. Do we have all manner
of new and heretofore unheard of drugs? Yes. Do we
already have people addicted to all manner of
substances (including alcohol and tobacco)? Again,
yes. As for the masses suddenly deciding to become
impaired if given access, I simply point to alcohol,
the most readily available of drugs: most all people
would not even think of drinking on the job lest the
boss fire their ass. Most all people would not drive
while drunk lest said ass gets thrown into jail and
their car impounded. I suspect this is how people
would act with any other mind-altering drug.

I suppose it comes down to how you view society: does
it need to be tended like a child or allowed the
freedom of an adult (and the incumbent consequences
thereof)? I use to believe the former; however, as I
learn more of the world, I found it provides only a
false sense of security. People will pursue their
pleasure as they will: I see them coming into the
hospital every day facing those consequences. The
point is brought up about basic care of children to
which I say you already have the answer: education and
regulation. If we would only truly educate about and
demystify drugs (and tobacco, and alcohol) could we
move toward making them less of a problem. [stepping
off soapbox]

Posted by: Doc Jensen at October 17, 2005 1:16 PM

I was already mentally formulating a long and drawn out answer to some of the comments in disagreement with this article until I reaad this last post. Amen to Doc Jensen.

As an addendum to his final point about education, it has to be true education and not crap about how the audience will become addicted and die if they puff on a joint. Kids are smarter than we think and they'll see through that and do the opposite of what we want them to for spite.

Posted by: little Ted at October 17, 2005 4:35 PM

Amy, this is disappointing. Your story, anecdotal, does show that responsible people exist in America, but it's fallacious to claim that your story is representative of the problem. Doc Jensen's story is based on a fallacy, too, called "affirming the consequent", where a thing once practiced is represented to be OK today because it was once OK.

This argument today has been seen before in gun control: if you insist that the public is responsible, then you have no recourse but to allow them the freedom to make mistakes. Yet we are manifestly not ready for that. As a people, we clamor for safety from our fellow man, seeking out laws to apply to others.

For a long time, we have seen that drug abuse does not affect the abuser alone. For a long time, we have mistaken the clumsiness of lawmaking and enforcement for evidence that the activity was somehow desirable. These two things are logically disconnected.

Logically similar: allow the public to carry guns as they wish. Allow the public to drive as fast as they wish. Allow motorcyclists to not wear helmets. All are risk-bearing activities with a price borne by other than the participant.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 17, 2005 5:43 PM

The question is not as simple as an either-or
response, Radwaste. A true, nuanced dialog on this
topic could take whole websites of space. However, we
are reduced to talking points. I used an example of
when society had full (and cheap) access to drugs and
yet did not implode. Indeed, our society has cheap
and ready access to alcohol yet most all adults (and
teenagers, for that matter) manage not to become
alcoholics or allow it to destroy their lives.
Moreover, our society has illicit access to all manner
or drugs and the ranks of our intelligentsia are
filled with former uses. Somehow, these people have
managed to use and yet not succumb. I myself have
never been a user; however, that does not mean I have
never been exposed. I will wager that most adults
(and more so teenagers) could get on the phone, call
friends of friends of friends and come up with da hook
up within a matter of hours. Do you still believe in
the fallacy of our Talmudic laws creating a strictly
controlled society?

Again, what we need is a realistic, truthful
discussion of what drugs do and treat it as the
medical, not criminal, behavior that it is. To
restate, education and regulation. The 1972 National
Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse found:

“Recognizing the extensive degree of misinformation
about marijuana as a drug, we have tried to
demythologize it. Viewing the use of marijuana in its
social context, we have tried to desymbolize it. [sic]
Considering the range of social concerns in
contemporary America, marijuana does not, in our
considered judgment, rank very high.”

Unfortunately, the findings did not agree with the
personal nor political beliefs of those in power. It
was subsequently rejected. While this discussion
focuses on marijuana, I believe this argument may be
extended to other substances of abuse. Again,
education and regulation. To use alcohol (the most
readily and widely available drug), you are not
allowed to drive drunk lest you face the consequences.
Indeed, you are not allowed to work drunk lest you
face the consequences (never underestimate the power
of economic punishment). And society functions.

Finally, Radwaste, I believe your argument suffers
from the fallacy of reductio ad absurdum (carrying the
argument to its logical end and thereby so reducing it
to an absurd conclusion). I will restate, education
and regulation. As for cars, you are taught how to
drive and told (and kept) within the confines of law
with speed limits and car inspections. As for
motorcycles, there should be much more education about
the virtues of wearing a helmet and not driving like
an asshole (and for cars to watch out for motorcycles,
and again, not drive like an asshole). Proof of an
utter failure of society to educate. As for guns, I
again favor education: you can drive around in a 4000,
6000 or 8000 pound projectile that requires a proof of
competency and a license yet you can possess a gun
without such requirements -- pure stupidity.
Radwaste, I am actually in the position to see the
wages of these “sins” by being a physician: they roll
through the hospital, into the ICU, onto the OR table
every day. These costs are truly borne by society in
many ways – ignorance is not a virtue. Finally,
education and regulation! [steps off soapbox again –
damn, I love my infrequent days off!]

Posted by: Doc Jensen at October 17, 2005 7:00 PM

Simpler than that, It comes down to personal responsibilty. I really dislike that "thought police" line about society is not ready or capable for drug legalization...please don't speak for me, I am not part of your collective nor do I feel the need to fit into your idealogical values.

No one should ever be able to tell you that you can't shoot, snort, smoke, or pop anything...It's you're life. Live and Let Live (aka mind your own damn business). Anyone drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, popping LEGAL drugs (just because some corporation / shrink TM--is banking off you), shouldn't make you feel righteous or justified. Yeah, yeah I know some folks are in true need of these things, but don't lose sight of the fact that the people in charge of keeping these trash laws in place are hypocrites just like the rest of the "well, my vice is legal so I'll bash yours crowd". Puppets

Posted by: Ziontao at October 17, 2005 8:05 PM

> No one should ever be able to tell you that
> you can't shoot, snort, smoke, or pop
> anything...It's you're life.

Even if the rest of us have to deal with the consequences? Even if after a few beers you start slapping your wife around and your neighbors call the cops?

Listen, I value privacy more than anything in my life. But a responsible libertarianism does not mean behaving like a toddler who covers his eyes after spilling his milk and says "Can't see me!"

Jensen's right: We are deeply connected to each other for better and worse.

Posted by: Crid at October 17, 2005 9:12 PM

So, it appears that some restrictions are in order, after all.

There is no absurdity here except for the idea that increased access to drugs means a decrease in drug-related crime and accidents.

By the way, Doc, your reference to gun to gun possession reveals a fundamental gap in knowledge about the legal situation in the US. See . I doubt that you've ever bought a consumer product so carefully regulated, or of which possession and handling is a felony in so many different ways.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 18, 2005 2:34 AM

legalized drugs wouldn't be a problem if people were responsible and parents taught their children properly.

perhaps we shouldn't protect people from themselves anymore, and spend everyone's tax money doing it. if your kid dies from overdosing on heroin you should reevaluate your parenting skills.


Posted by: g*mart at October 18, 2005 12:29 PM

Radwaste: article noted and I (for the most part) agree with it. I will clarify my take on guns and their parallels to cars: you go through classes to learn proper maintenance, control and operation of a car. With the exception of Hunter’s Safety (required in Utah for those under 16 using a gun) there is no such requirement for adults. Speaking as an owner of several guns and coming from a family of hunters and marksmen, basic education on proper gun use should be strongly encouraged, if not required. I am very pro-gun, but so with the caveat of with privilege of ownership comes responsibility of education. As for the rest of the regulation stupidity about ID cards, etc. I think speaks for it self. However, there is one premise of the paper I do not agree with: I believe automobiles and alcohol are far more dangerous than guns.

Posted by: Doc Jensen at October 18, 2005 6:24 PM

I like the idea of personal responsibility, and I get on the soapbox frequently about it.

The Hurricane Katrina debacle is a fine example of how depending on government agencies is a bad idea. (My favorite citation of lessons learned there is somehow blocked because of "questionable content", despite there being not one epithet on the pages.) Here's another, cuter, example of the value of personal responsibility: see

Posted by: Radwaste at October 21, 2005 3:33 PM

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