the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world
For me, drug use is always suspect. To use prescription drugs at best detracts from the body’s ability to maintain itself, and at worst can place substances with incompletely understood effects voluntarily into the body, at risk of injury or death. To place foreign substances into the body for recreational purposes is reckless and foolish. To use drugs known to have a mind-altering effect is a declaration that the mind is not worth protecting, and the best sign I know of that there is no mind involved to protect. Personally, I never touch the stuff.
It is quite another thing to believe that those who do use drugs which for some reason or other have been proscribed should be beaten or imprisoned. This is paternalism at its most intrusive. What we do with our bodies is a matter of individual sovereignty. For the state to claim, as it repeatedly does, that it, not I, has ultimate jurisdiction over my body, when I am hurting no one but myself, is the end of freedom. Those conservatives who support the prohibition of recreational drug use can no longer claim liberty as their province, for they know nothing of it.
Worse, these same anti-drug fanatics are more likely than not to use alcohol, which has an intoxicating mind-altering effect, which is probably more likely to foster addiction than marijuana or LSD, which destroys lives with at least as great a force. Many opponents of illegal drugs use tobacco, which has numerous severe health effects, is dreadfully addictive, and frequently used (and disposed of) without regard for the impact on the surroundings, including humans in the vicinity. This is in addition to the abuse of things which are otherwise natural ― food and sex ― which bring pleasure but can thus lead to addiction and finally have negative consequences, both physically and socially. Within the law-and-order culture, though, statutory approval or disapproval is given a moral weight. What is legal is right; what is illegal is wrong. Nay, evil.
Hence the War on Drugs. This is not just a rhetorical excess which corrupts language. It is not just a titanic waste of resources. It is above all a complete failure to hold individuals accountable for their own behavior in an appropriate way. Those who abuse their bodies (but harm no others) will learn only when they suffer the results of that abuse directly. Incarceration teaches only not to get caught. As far as supply-side interdiction, this is not holding the individual accountable at all. Because we cannot convince the individual to choose the healthy course, we attempt to remove the choice. If the beef lobby were not well-organized, we would then, by that logic, slaughter the cattle population of the entire world. But that would be no different from the scorched-earth strategy on which this war is being fought.
The lunacy of anti-drug hysteria is most evident with regard to marijuana. This drug has legitimate medical uses, but cannot be prescribed. It is certainly no worse than alcohol as a substance of abuse. And in its prohibition the government has ludicrously banned a most useful plant, best known as hemp. Hemp is rugged and fast-growing. It has use in erosion control and makes a resource fiber without peer. The state recognizes this; during the second world war, the United States planted hemp for its own war effort, and attempted to eradicate this crop after the war. Paternalistic elitism, “Do as I say, not as I do”, should never be acceptable in a supposedly-free society. But we learn here the error in our supposition.
Prohibition of alcohol is commonly accepted as a failure of the past. If that failure is not seen as relevant to drugs like marijuana or LSD, that can only be because alcohol was widely used and abused at the time of Prohibition. Too many otherwise law-abiding citizens would cast aside their respect for the law if that respect meant abstinence from their favorite poison. Such a dilemma is not present for drugs that are still illegal ― no one alive has ever lived in a period where the drugs were legal in the United States. The clamoring for decriminalization by those who are already criminals is ignored, because they have no legitimate voice in society. The only operating principle, then, must be that the majority can never be wrong. I am not at all certain that this principle is not tacitly accepted anyway, but I would hate to hear someone attempt to defend it. I have only so much tolerance for other persons’ shame.
© O.T. FORD
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