Saturday, June 4, 2011

Smoke and Mirrors

Last month during the first GOP Presidential debate of the 2012 nominating season, Rep. Ron Paul was asked whether he believed that the sale and use of heroin should be legal in the United States.  Paul’s position on this subject is well known to those who pay attention to these sorts of things.  He is a true Libertarian when it comes to our drug laws, and he supports full legalization.  In his view, drug prohibitions are an unwarranted government intrusion into personal decision making.  To paraphrase his comments that particular evening, Paul responded by asking the audience for a show from those who would start using heroin if it was legal to do so.  Of course, this comment earned the expected chuckle from the conservative audience.  Legalization would not magically convince the good citizens of South Carolina to shoot up.  He made his point.

Ron Paul’s position just became a bit more main stream after a report was released by the Global Commission on Drug Policy.  The commission, whose membership includes former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. official George P. Schultz, who held cabinet posts under Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, the former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, and business mogul Richard Branson, make a strong case that the war on drugs has not only been lost, but is unwinnable.  The report further states that the money spent on enforcement, incarceration and eradication, if shifted to education and treatment, will reduce drug related societal problems and save money.  It calls for new national policies based on empirical evidence, not moral judgments.

From the report:

"Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.

"Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption. Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost instantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers.

"Arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of these people in recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations. There appears to be almost no limit to the number of people willing to engage in such activities to better their lives, provide for their families, or otherwise escape poverty. Drug control resources are better directed elsewhere."*

*Quotes from article

This headline news item represents another milestone for the Libertarian movement that has incrementally moved public opinion in their favor.  State by state, the movement has celebrated victories that have allowed medical marijuana to be grown and sold.  In California, the state could not do without the tax revenue that the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry is generating.  As California has learned, “legalize and tax” can reduces expenses and raises revenues for the state.  This doesn’t even take into consideration increased business at local 7-11s for munchy snack foods, like Doritos and Funyons.

So I challenge all of the growing ranks of GOP contenders fighting for the opportunity to face off against Obama in November 2012 – where does personal freedom and personal responsibility end and government oversight, regulation, and enforcement begin?  Before you answer, think through your response to the inevitable follow up question, “so when it comes to the war on drugs, are you ready to ‘cut and run’?”  I believe that this is an issue where the fault line between the Tea Party Libertarians and the evangelical Christians will be most pronounced, and Obama, at least today, has staked out the ‘stay the course’ position:

 "Drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated. Making drugs more available — as this report suggests — will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe," Office of National Drug Control Policy spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said.

Does the government have a responsibility to protect society from the collateral damage and indirect costs that open, legal drug usage may cause? 

Personal freedom versus the morality of drug use.  Choose wisely.

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