Wednesday, January 5, 2011

On Legailizaton

The New Republic features a lengthy essay arguing in favor of the legalization of all drugs. Personally, it's an argument that I largely agree with. As far as I'm concerned, what people choose to put into their bodies is really none of my business. Furthermore, the "War on Drugs" is an utter failure. Beyond the fact that it's a war being waged by our government almost entirely against American citizens, prohibition has inflated the price of even soft drugs like marijuana to the point where the profit margin has allowed narcotics gangs to fund what is essentially a state of insurrection in Mexico.

However, the central argument of the piece is this:

The end of the War on Drugs is, in fact, what all people genuinely concerned with black uplift should be focused on, which is why I am devoting my last TNR post of 2010 to the issue. The black malaise in the U.S. is currently like a card house; the Drug War is a single card which, if pulled out, would collapse the whole thing.

I would really, really like to agree with this. And while I would say that the War on Drugs is absolutely a factor in black disenfranchisement, particularly when one considers the enormous percentage of the population removed from productive life and serving time for non-violent drug offenses, I have to contend that the authors position is an over-simplification.

He argues that were drugs (all drugs, mind you), available at low cast at pharmacies, a street market with a notable mark up in price would be impossible. Yes and no...Granted CVS would be able to sell a bag of coke for considerably less. But I'm assuming that when the author speaks of drugs sold at pharmacies, he's speaking in terms of recreational drugs being sold with prescription? I could be making an erroneous assumption here. But if not, then he has to recognize that there is clearly a significant market for illegally attained prescription medications. Or for that matter, if drugs are sold as age controlled products, like cigarettes or beer, then there will still be a market amongst younger people looking to get products their age prohibits them from having. So though I would agree that the street drug market would diminish, it's optimistic to assume that it would totally vanish. 

Unfortunately, the author also fails to examine fully the reasons why the street drug market is so profitable and thus so attractive. Though clearly a significant part of the profits are caused by a government enforced choke on supply, there is still the question of demand. And in no way do I mean to imply that this demand is endemic to the black community, look at meth use in rural, white America for example. However, this doesn't excuse the fact that a significant number of people are making bad, frankly nihilistic decisions for whatever reasons. Though the criminalization of the drug trade clearly exacerbates these problems, I think that it's important to recognize that there are still underlying issues that have to be attended to.

In closing, I'm opposed to the drug war entirely. It is expensive and ruinous. Darnell, the straw character used by the author, can sell whatever the hell he wants to as far as I'm concerned. However, presenting legalization as the central solution to problems faced by the black community seems regrettably minimalist.

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