War on drugs questions legalization

Commentary By
Elizabeth Dennis

The Honors Program on campus has a discussion-based class that meets once a week to discuss an article chosen by a discussion leader.

Last week my section read “Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs” by Dan Baum. He argues that all drugs (including hard drugs like cocaine and heroin) should be decriminalized and eventually legalized; then their consumption should be regulated by the government, in a similar way to alcohol.

At first glance this concept seemed insane to me. However, the supporting evidence intrigued me and I have been spending a good amount of time thinking about why my natural view of drugs was so negative. I’ve come to one perplexing question, how much of my initial opinion was based on personal bias instead of facts?

The drug stigma is partially due to the title our government has pushed on us, “the war on drugs,” Kind of catchy isn’t it? It certainly gives us a common enemy.

In the opening paragraph to Baum’s article he destroyed my previous notion about “the war on drugs,” He explained that this campaign began with Richard Nixon in 1968 to attack his two biggest political rivals, the antiwar group and the African-Americans.

He couldn’t make it illegal to belong to either group so he super-criminalized marijuana and heroin for an excuse to break up their meetings, arrest their leaders, raid their homes and vilify them to the public. This means that from day one, the negative drug connotation was a manipulation by the government. This struck me and made me reconsider all of the drug education I’ve received throughout my life.

In fifth grade, at age 11, I participated in the nation-wide Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) Program at my public elementary school.

The program was developed in 1983 by the California Police Department and has become mandatory for many public schools across America. The purpose is to teach children to abstain from drugs and make them aware of the detrimental effects drugs will have on your life if you try them.

A police officer comes in with worst-case scenario photos and horror stories to scare students away from the terrors of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

The memory of signing a contract promising to never do drugs came flooding back to me as I thought about complete decriminalization and legalization for the first time. Ironically, multiple studies have shown that D.A.R.E. does not make students any less likely to try drugs or drink alcohol. It’s only true accomplishment is drilling into student’s brains that drugs are bad, period.

Another perspective bending concept I’ve recognized is the media never stopped painting drugs in a bad light after the Nixon administration.

In my hometown, the evening news has a segment of those arrested that day; they plaster drug offender mug shots across the screen with some commentary, usually depicting them as low-lives who deserve to be in prison.

In fact, according to the Bureau of Prisons about 48.6 percent of the 207,847 people in federal prison were there on drug charges in 2015. The Bureau of Justice Statistics added that 16 percent of the 1,358,875 people in state prisons and 744,600 of those in county/city jails had drug infractions as their most serious offense.

Americans are conditioned to associate drugs with scumbags in prison, not a very promising perspective for presenting a decriminalization position.

Although I have not completely developed an opinion about eliminating “the war on drugs,” my view has changed dramatically favoring decriminalization.

This experience made me wonder how many of my other opinions have been established by the influences of others instead of my own experiences and knowledge on the subject.

I suppose this is what college is about, learning to think in new ways and examining previous beliefs in a meaningful way.

Think about your feeling about President Trump, opinion on abortion or your immediate reaction to the decriminalization or complete legalization of hard drugs. Were your immediate thoughts even your own?

One Response to War on drugs questions legalization

  1. Joe Marks

    March 6, 2017 at 9:39 pm

    I came to the same conclusion as presented here, as I’m sure a great many people have way before me! I’ve taken it a step further by now, and that’s the evolution of chaos. Not in a bad way, but not not in a bad way too. It’s not something you can be taught, like the War on Drugs… you have to figure it out for yourself I think. Einstein said, “It’s a miracle curiosity survives a formal education.” (or something like that)

    I’m in favor of Repealing the Controlled Substances Act. I see how everything labeled as an act is only used as a tax on society, and it’s done with discrimination too often (which was even once). These substance are nothing more than products for consumption. We were raising as a nation based upon consumption, and it’s what we do as living organisms out of necessity or desire. It’s called free will, and acts tax that.

    From a healthcare perspective, we would do better to reconsider our current evidence-based practices. Our evidence is based upon that which is permitted by federal law to be used in research, and they could use a bit more oversight. Like 100% transparency in everything they do while on the job serving the people with their tax dollars. Bring them into the light of the public where they can do no public harm. Same with military, and especially with military, but that’s further down the rabbit hole. Let’s kill the Controlled Substances Act by shedding light on what it is and what it serves, and who. Always follow the money.