Thursday, June 30, 2011

Foolishness on Drug Legalization

On today, William Bennett has published an alarmist diatribe warning against the "dangers" of drug legalization. He warns that legalization will turn our youth into a mass of drug addicted zombies, leading to increases in crime and psychosis. A new marijuana legalization bill, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, occasioned his alarm.

My Gut Reaction: Perhaps we should ask Mr. Bennett his opinion on the legality of gambling.

Analysis: My mention of Bennett's eight million dollar gambling habit is not merely the ad hominem attack that it may initially seem. Bennett and his allies defended him by saying his gambling hurt no one but himself. A similar argument can be raised in regard to drug use. Although Bennett tries to argue that marijuana use leads inexorably to crime, personal experience suggests otherwise. For instance, members of my family have used marijuana without becoming thieves, rapists, or murderers. The devil's weed indeed.

More broadly, Bill Bennett has no more right to tell people not to use drugs than I have to tell him not to gamble. Following his logic, the state would have the right to tell people not to drink alcohol, not to gamble, and not to eat fatty foods. (Indeed, from a public health perspective, banning the fatty foods would make more sense.)

Bennett wrote the article in tones reminiscent of a nineteenth-century temperance campaigner, complete with a survey of the horrors of a drug treatment facility. Interesting, he ignores a statistic published by NORML, a group in favor of marijuana legalization, and sourced from the federal government, over fifty percent of people admitted to rehab for marijuana had either not used it at all within the past month, or had used it less than three times. These people had not gone into rehab because they had a problem; they did so because they were ordered to by the courts.

Bennett's own use of statistics is rather interesting. He says that less than two percent of enforcement is for simple possession, but only uses the federal statistics, ignoring state and local enforcement, who probably deal with marijuana possession far more often than the feds. The FBI is unlikely to chase after someone for having a joint.

Another statistic that Bennett fails to consider is that we have spent one trillion dollars on the Drug War in the past 40 years, and although we have lower rates of drug use, we are far from eliminating it. Our country no longer has the money to spend on this, unless Bennett and his fellow drug warriors are willing to pay some steep taxes to fund their little crusade.

Nonetheless, Bennett and his cohorts will cry, "The children! What about the children!" Whether someone uses drugs is their own responsibility. I could have gotten a hold of drugs when I was a teenager, but I didn't. This was not because I was afraid of some cop, but because I concluded that drugs are bad for you. The conservatives are all for personal responsibility. Why don't they apply it here?

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