To fight or not to fight – this is the question

March 18, 2009 at 5:19 am 6 comments

A recent article in The Economist stirred up quite a discussion in the Net about the usefulness of the “War on Drugs”, or the efforts of the international community to stop the influx, distribution, and use of illicit drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. The article presented a very pessimistic view of the issue, and suggested that we would be better off if we just gave up the fight and legalized the use of substances currently considered illicit. They argue that the war is costing us too much while producing no tangible results, and that the same amount of money could be better used to educate people about drugs and to treat additcts. Many bloggers, including Juniorprof, of all the people, have picked up on the subject, mostly supporting the article. Hell, even I, who have always been opposed to legalization of even soft drugs, thought for a moment “Hey, maybe they are right!”. But then after this brief moment of insanity, I came to my senses.

WHAT????? Legalize cocaine, heroin, and amphetamine???? Let me quote some statistics: an estimated 3 million people in the US currently suffer from serious drug problems. That’s 1 in every 100  citizens, whose life is seriously impaired by use of illicit drugs. There is no doubt that drug use would increase after legalization – even the authors of the article don’t deny that. We don’t even have a ball park estimate by how much it would increase, but let’s say that it is 10%, which would be an extremely optimistic estimate. That would mean that by legalizing drugs you are basically condemning one in every 1000 otherwise perfectly healthy people to a serious debilitating disease which deprives them of their free will, distorts their perception of reality, and results sooner or later in a terrible humiliating death. Not only that – my prediction is that it is the children who would suffer the most. Hard drugs, such as crack, are not easy to come by for high school kids nowadays. Sure, if you really want to get them, you will, but for most kids the scare of talking to a dealer and the high price are enough of a deterrent. If these drugs were legalized, they would become as easily accessible to these kids as alcohol is right now – that is very easily. Would you rather your child/little brother/nephew got drunk with beer on their prom night and in the worst case scenario vomited all over the place, or that he or she got high on crack and died of overdose?

These deliberations aside, the statement that we are losing the War on Drugs, is simply FALSE. It all depends on how you define “losing”. If losing means being unable to completely eliminate the drug problem, than yes, we are losing. On the other hand, we are successful at keeping drugs hard to come by and expensive, we are preventing some poor kids from being lured into the vicious circle of addiction, we are saving some families from the terrible fate that is dependence of one of its members. In that way, we are winning. We should be thankful to all the people that fight this war for us – they are helping fend off evil that is drug dependence, and they are paying for it dearly, sometimes even with their lives. Saying that their noble efforts make no economic sense is not a good way to express our gratitude! The articles such as the one in The Economist show how much our money-driven thinking and tendency to put a number on everything makes us forget the basic differences between right and wrong.

If you are still not persuaded, let me ask you this question: If a group of terrorists said they would cease all violent actions if you agreed to poison one citizen in every thousand with a known deadly neurotoxin, would you even start to negotiate? The mythical Athenian hero Theseus would know the answer to that question. Are we going to have the guts to follow his example? Or are we going to listen to all these pseudo-economists and hippie-libertarians and just give up?

As for the arguments for drug legalization, I’ve heard them all – they range from total bullshit through conventional wisdom strawmen to libertarian “I should be able to hurt myself if I want to” rants. If there are real logical arguments against the war on drugs, I am not aware of them, so please be so kind as to enlighten me.


Entry filed under: Health policy. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. AlchemX  |  May 24, 2009 at 12:16 am

    Drugs are a personal decision (hopefully) and they tend to hurt the individual the most. Because drugs are illegal, the problems drug abusers face are even greater. If a drug user is convicted and builds a criminal record (even non violent) they are in a downward spiral. Their opportunities are lowered by their perceived threat. They get stuck as a loser in society even if they are reformed.

    You are just another scared person, we can’t control people’s lives like this and fight these massive wars. The U.S. gets the least of the problem while the rest of the world, especially Mexico, sees it rage in their backyard. We deal with alcohol and cigarettes by providing information, and their abuse has been lowered. We didn’t need to hold a gun up to someone’s head in these cases.

    The world is highly interconnected now, I say we fight with information and help those who made this mistake. It costs far more to keep them locked up and to keep them from coming back. Our prisons are overflowing, California’s budget can’t handle them anymore, these prisoners will likely be released, with grim prospects because of a personal decision they can’t recover from and they will not care what they do.

    It’s a shame that people do become addicted, but it’s also a shame that we lock them up like animals and make them into animals in our prisons. I live in the areas where these people are left to survive. The white Americans in their gated communities and suburbs only see through their TV’s and think they should have an opinion, they control government from a tall tower and have a poor perception, just like you, about what is good. Fear runs policy when economics and sound reasoning should.

  • 2. niewiap  |  May 24, 2009 at 6:33 am

    I am not just a scared person or a white American in a gated community. Dismissing me as such doesn’t bring anything to the discussion. I just think that allowing poison to be distributed legally is insane, no matter what you might think about everybody’s freedom to choose whether or not to consume that poison. The argument about personal freedom and logical decision-making is moot – most drug abusers don’t just one day decide to start smoking crack based on the research they did of benefits and risks. They face peer pressure and are influenced by many socioeconomic factors, which limit their ability to make independent decisions. That is especially true for children, who even from a legal standpoint aren’t responsible for their actions. Their parents are, and it is the parents’ responsiblility to limit their exposure to drugs, if need be by fighting those who distribute them or by endorsing such a fight.
    As for an information campaign, I am afraid that it would be ineffective. As opposed to nicotine or alcohol, the rewarding effects of illicit drugs are very strong and their addictive potential much higher. Again, the decisions people make about illicit drugs are hardly based on logic. Not that we shouldn’t try, but such a campaign can only be considered an additional measure rather than a substitute for an active fight against dealers.
    I suggest you should check your self-rigteousness and derisive language and really think about these issues in a broader context.

  • 3. AlchemX  |  May 25, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Poison is distributed in the form of cigarettes and alcohol. These often cause far more harm to families through abuse, traffic accidents, health problems and cancer. Yes they are poison, but it is far more poisonous to society to assume they can control each individual’s choice to consume them. Prohibition did not work for alcohol, legal regulation did. Cigarette use was decreased by freely distributing truthful information and letting people decide.

    Yes, some people will suffer, but the suffering is far less if they are not thrown in prison and shackled by society for the rest of their lives. The allusion to sheltered white americans is an analogy for people that are in positions of power and feel that they know what is best, because they live a more stable life than those poor people on crack. Given all the education I have at the PhD level and knowing what I know about drugs, it is instinctive to try to make them illegal, but it is not rational and the poor suffer even more under the burden of violent regulation.

    Yes people will become addicted, but the violence of drugs will decrease since laws can be relied upon to settle disputes and get people out of the vicious cycle of drug abuse. The vigilantism we see in the form of gangs and cartels can be better controlled.

    The drug war has created a permanent underclass of people marked for life. Their children will suffer because society has deemed their parents worthless crack heads, no matter how reformed. The cycle will continue with no escape and the violence will rage on. Ask the people that have to deal with vigilante violence in their backyards because no one can turn to the law to settle problems. The politicians do not have to deal with it, they don’t pay for the war, they just need to look good enough to get elected, so they continue the war.

    Fear has ruled drug policy and has created the largest prison population in the world, in the United States! Other countries have legalized (or decriminalized) drugs and their crime rates have went down! Even their drug use is actually lower than even the United States.

    The instinctive reaction to ban poisons consumed by individual choice is akin to trying to control a swerving car. If you turn away from the swerve, problems continue. Turning into it, though scary, control can be gained, this is against instinct but the physics support it. Economics supports drug decriminalization if not outright legalization. We need a more unemotional and scientific viewpoint on this and let people decide their own morality.

    The drug war is only 35 years old, we’ve been living with drugs for far longer, we’ll be alright. Let’s use our tax dollars on something more productive.

  • 4. AlchemX  |  June 12, 2009 at 1:28 am

    Could we at least agree to decriminalize marijuana? That would definitely save time and money for everyone.

    In general, drug prices have dropped and the war on drugs has done little to make them more expensive and elusive. Even if they were expensive, even more crimes would be committed.

    Stop wasting everyone’s money on this silly war, starting with marijuana.

  • 5. niewiap  |  June 12, 2009 at 4:56 am


    My stance is not very strong on marijuana, but it is about the only illegal drug which is not outright poison. However, the war on drugs is mainly against hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin rather than marijuana or MDMA (the latter, btw, being also quite harmful). I strongly believe that fighting the war on drugs is both more ethical than giving up, and cheaper in the long run, both in terms of lifes lost and in terms of monetary costs to the society. If you can quote any statistics (other than marijuana-related) on how much the war on drugs costs and how much the estimated cost of legalizing drugs would be, please let me know.

  • 6. AlchemX  |  June 12, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Drugs are definitely cheaper, here and abroad, despite the war on drugs.

    It is unfortunate that people will do these things, but it’s not the government’s job to baby sit us either. They’re not really good at it. It wastes massive amounts of money as California is finding out.

    Information and people helping each other is the real way to fight drugs, not guns.

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