From Hammering Spilled Milk.
To understand why we must change prohibition, and how we must change it, we must first know why that needs to happen. The answer is quite simple, it is in the numbers. Drug prohibition on a global scale is an exercise in Einstein’s definition of insanity. It is repeating the same procedure over and over while expecting to produce different results. If it didn’t work for the first century then it isn’t likely to start.
Prohibition is not unlike cleaning up spilled milk with a hammer, or putting out a grease fire with a garden hose. Regardless of the amount of effort you invest you will never accomplish those tasks with the stated tools. Continued hammering will only break up your kitchen tiles while milk is distributed farther and wider. Water on a grease fire will only spread it around, increase the surface area of the fuel and make a bigger fire. How long would you hammer spilled milk before you reached for a paper towel? Would you burn your whole house down rather than admitting you were wrong and putting a lid on the pan?
That sounds a bit tongue-in-cheek, but that is precisely what policy makers have been doing for the better part of eight decades, and continues to reinvest further effort and resources in despite past failures. It’s like destroying your own home to avoid the pain of admitting failure. You don’t have to capitulate to the essentially racist and classist motivations of prohibition when initially implemented to agree to the fact that whatever the reasons for it, drug prohibition doesn’t make anything better for anyone.
With military interventions in dozens of nations, drug enforcement in every member nation of the U.N. and millions of people in prison the world around there is no less drug abuse now than there was before prohibition was implemented. There is so much cocaine use in some nations it is measurable in the drinking water supply. After eight decades of open warfare a plant that only grows in a small part of South America it is still present in the water supply of the United Kingdom on the other side of the planet; it makes you think long and hard about just how realistic the goal of drug eradication actually is.
There is a certain point past which a society cannot consume any more drugs, and modern western civilization is at about that threshold. We’re arguably at that stage now, where drug abuse is so common in our society, quite often with the stamp of approval from medical professionals, that the repeal of prohibition laws wouldn’t really have a measurable impact. Are you going to go out tomorrow and take up smoking crack if criminal penalties for possession and distribution were removed? It doesn’t seem likely.
Even assuming we don’t reduce drug dependence by ending prohibition, we still accomplish the goal of harm reduction. Hard drug users are no longer forced to seek their supply from organized crime. Quality and dosage could be controlled, preventing overdoses and other health concerns associated with contaminants in drugs. Revenue could be taken from criminal enterprises and redirected to legitimate and regulated industry which is easier to hold to account. There are two potential options here, both of them result in people using drugs, but only one route gives us measures of control on that situation.
The trouble is that prohibition does not function as prohibition; rather it has become a de facto deregulation of dangerous drugs. The marketplace has not been eliminated, demand has not been measurably curbed, and so we have a multibillion dollar marketplace world-wide which we have absolutely no control over. The idea of unregulated milk on store shelves is unthinkable, that stuff can go bad and make people sick. The idea of unregulated drugs on our streets is a daily reality, and we just accept that without question, continually given empty assurances by our leaders that they are doing something to solve the problem.
They’ve had eight decades now to “do something” about this problem, and thus far all we have is an ocean of blood and a bigger prison population than any point in human history. They’ve done a terrible job! Why do we keep letting them do this crap?
There are risks, and we are right to be cautious about those risks. With every other market we have developed we mitigate those risks by regulating. The old saying “if you outlaw guns then only outlaws will have guns” holds true as much for drugs as it does for firearms. It’s actually easier to make drugs than it is a gun, that’s why there are more rogue meth cooks than rogue gunsmiths. In many cases the same group of people who decry the notion of banning guns are quick to say we must ban certain drugs – how do those thoughts fit in the same head?
This concept is hopelessly broken and not fit for any purpose, and so we have to start to formulate sensible schemes of production and regulation. Drugs are here to stay, they’ve been here since before the point when we had words to label them, and animals will probably get high long after we are dust. We can’t kill the big beast called “drugs”, so what are we going to do with it?