It’s supply and demand dude!
While I am against drug use I am for legalization of them. That might seem like a contradictory position, but really it’s not. I believe that the best way to get people to stop using drugs is to legalize them. That may run counter to popular thought but it’s not wrong and there’s plenty of evidence to prove it. This evidence comes, of all places, from the various campaigns used over the years to fight drug use among teens.
I’ve discussed before how human beings are naturally rebellious. It is in our nature a s matter of fact. It’s an odd dichotomy that while we don’t like to be told what to do we also crave someone to tell us what to do. I realize that doesn’t make sense on the face of it but it’s true. It’s a fight that takes place within each of us and which is particularly evident in adolescents. To understand how what I’m saying is correct you need to reflect on childhood for a moment. Children do best, studies have shown, in a household with rules and clear cut expectations for the children. Likely you have heard it said that children don’t need friends, they need parents. Growing out of the 1960’s hippie movement those kids grew up and became parents. They didn’t drop their hippie ideals though but rather attempted to parent using them. They weren’t going to be a drag man!
First let’s start with what doesn’t work
Telling kids that drugs are terrible, horrible, and awful doesn’t work. Studies have shown that teens who had seen anti-drug campaigns, especially those that were considered more graphic, tended to be more curious about drugs and more likely to experiment with them.
Michael Slater, the study’s principle investigator and a professor of social and behavioral sciences at The Ohio State University, says initial anti-drug ads didn’t take into account the nature of being a teenager.
“Research shows that at least half of teens are sensation-seeking. Taking chances is exciting,” he explains. “It’s developmentally part of being a teenager to buck adult rules and take moderate risks.”
“Drug use is implicitly seen as a way to become autonomous…”
As I’ve indicated before, humans as a species are somewhat rebellious by nature. Tell us what to do and we balk, tell us not to do something and we are likely to want to. This is especially intense in early to mid adolescence. So what doesn’t work in terms of trying to get people not to use drugs is telling them not to and if you want to make your message into a motivator for drug use (the opposite of the intention) then make that message a very strong one, a graphic one, or especially one that uses scare tactics. Basically, they invite a person to ask themselves about drugs. Showing the extreme of use, even if accurate, is likely to engender disbelief and the classic, “not me” kind of attitude many teens possess. I’ve heard it compared to a ringing phone. If it never rings you will never ask, “who is it on the other end?” but if it does ring, then you question. A teen that never hears about drugs will be much less likely to ask that “what if?” or “should I?” than one who sees anti-drug commercials or other propaganda.
That is the right word to use, propaganda. It is true that drugs are harmful but we actually know that under controlled use the harm can be managed. Many people take narcotics for pain. Some abuse them, most do not. Among those who do abuse them it often comes from not adhering to the specific instructions provided by their doctor. Alcohol abuse is more prevalent than drug abuse according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Granted, there are drugs far more powerful than alcohol and far more dangerous. Drugs that alter a user’s behavior in such a way as to make them a danger to others. Bath Salts are one well-known example of this. However, the determining factor for this is largely emotional than scientific. Meaning no great studies have been conducted to determine objectively which drugs are most likely to produce the kind of behavior in the greatest number of people who would make them a danger to society. Certainly they are a danger to the user but I believe that is the business of the user. Based on my experience I know that drugs are harmful. I’ve seen them destroy people’s lives which makes me very desirous that other not use them. It would be easy for me to justify how I know better. They are on drugs after all and therefore cannot make a reasoned choice for their own life. It’s hard for people to let others go down a wrong path. Certainly for those within my own sphere of influence I would do what I could to help them. However, am I justified in using force to make them stop? Am I justified in tossing them in jail? Even if I am justified in making that assertion we have learned that tossing people in prison for drug use doesn’t work as a means to stop them from using drugs.
In a nation that runs on supply and demand, rather than be demanding, just lower demand.
Does the opposite work then?
First off, seeing addiction as a medical condition works very well. That much has been known for a very long time. If that is known then why don’t we act upon that knowledge? It’s cultural of course, especially in America. In many other countries the use of substances is common for relaxation and often for use in spiritual rituals. They are used to access another plane of existence, the spirit world, or to take one on a great spirit journey to find some connection to something bigger than oneself.
In America though, especially modern America, we know drugs aren’t taking you anywhere but on a chemical ride. Though we are still a religious nation we view primitive ritual in a poor light and even our religion is colored by intellect. We know it’s the drug that’s causing the shaman’s sensations and not an actual spirit journey. In a way the western Christian reserves for themselves a greater claim because their spirituality does not have a catalyst that can be put under a microscope. Because of this and the general culture of America drug use for other than medical reasons has always been seen as the sign of a weak mind and a foolish individual. To be honest, it will likely always been seen that way even if legalization happens. This is partly cultural of course but partly because it’s true. Perhaps that’s a discussion for another time though but I’m sure we all know someone who “needs” a substance to get along, give them courage, loosen them up, relax them, etc. That “need” most certainly causes others to shake their heads and forms at least part of their assessment of that individual. With drug use even those who desire to use drugs eventually need to use them. That’s simply the nature of the brain and the powerful endorphin release drug use triggers.
Because of this cultural and religious bias Americans and other western cultures are loath to accept that people addicted to drugs have a problem other than one of their own making. While it is true that the choice to use drugs was theirs the choice to continue beyond a certain point isn’t. The body takes over by producing a craving for the substance that is beyond intellect and very near beyond willpower. This is why the recognition of having a problem is the first step in getting help. Without that a person will not have the requisite tools to combat what comes next. Because so many drug users, and alcohol abusers, are not at that point, they continue to use. This puts a great burden on the people around them. Culturally we see it as their fault and personally we do not have the desire to put up with them and the chaos they cause. So it’s easier to make it illegal and put them in jail. I hope we are at a point in our society where we can agree that this does not work as a means to get someone off of drugs even if we can’t agree that this is punishing them for having a medical condition. No, it’s not exactly like tossing someone in jail because they have cancer, but perhaps if it’s lung cancer caused from smoking there’s an analog.
Second, not putting people in prison but rather helping them is the next thing our society should do. I’m clearly not about spending tax payer dollars on most things we currently spend them on but I will say, if given the choice between spending that money on prison for a drug user or for treatment for that user, I say we spend it on treatment. I know that court mandated treatment is not as effective as voluntary treatment but it is more effective than prison.
Third, we should legalize those drugs that are not likely to cause users to harm others. Much of the activity associated with drug use is already illegal, and rightfully so, even if drugs were not involved. For example, people often say (rightfully so) that drug use leads to crimes like left and assault. But those things are illegal anyway. If a person does drugs and harms no one else who is the victim? If they do steal, drive while under the influence, assault someone, etc. then punish them for those things. The things they actually do and that have actual victims. You can’t be a victim of yourself, not criminally speaking. I can’t kick my own butt, or steal my own car, or defraud myself. Certainly, drug users hurt family members and make a wreck out of their personal lives. But those things aren’t criminal. If we passed a law for every behavior that made your wife mad then Call of Duty would be against the law.
If you legalize marijuana, for example, it will be more available but it also won’t be as sexy. The aspect of rebellion is taken out of it when it’s purchased at Circle K and the price drops to nothing.
We cannot legislate good behavior.
That’s the main thing we have to come to an understanding of in America; laws do not generate behavior they only provide a means to codify punishment for undesirable behavior. If laws actually prevented crime there would be no crime. That is an undeniable fact. If a law against rape prevented rape there would be no rape. But there is rape so it’s clear that laws do not prevent behavior. It’s a standard joke about Gun Free Zones and gun laws. Gun laws do not keep guns out of the hands of criminals and Gun Free Zones only tell gunmen where the unarmed gather. Under no circumstances do these laws keep guns out of the hands of ban men who would use them. We have to get out of the mindset that if we have a problem the thing to do is pass a law. Somehow we took the idea of being a nation of laws, which meant a nation that espoused justice, to meaning we needed a law for everything. We don’t. They aren’t effective.
Thinking that we can is the plague of both left and right. The left thinks that just because there is a law that says you cannot discriminate on the base of race that will do away with racism and the right thinks just because gays can’t marry that it will do away with gays. The best way to change behavior is actually to let people behave how they like. It seems counter intuitive to a lot of people but it is true. It has been proved time and time again. The law of unintended consequences always seems to rear its head when people try to use force on other people. They intend to help, they never do, and the thing they are trying to prevent is the very thing that happens as a result of their intervention.
We’ll never teach drug users that they aren’t going on some great spirit journey if all we do is stick them in prison removing them from society, family, friends, and employment.