Stockton Record, CA
Published Friday, Oct 28, 2005
To me, Red Ribbon Week is a time not only to make the good arguments against drugs to kids, but time to salvage what shreds of national sanity remain after decades of America's war on drugs.
Next to solving every foreign policy problem militarily, the war on drugs is America's No. 1 bad idea.
The illogic, the staggering cost, the ruinous toll in human lives -- all for a campaign that arguably is a boon to drug cartels and which hasn't banished drugs.
So let's recap. Alcohol is responsible for an estimated 100,000 premature deaths every year. It is legal. If somebody died from marijuana, it is because a bale of it fell on him. There is no record of a single marijuana fatality. Yet it is illegal.
Ironically, President Nixon created a commission to get to the bottom of the marijuana problem and, against all odds, it did. Naturally, its conclusions were rejected.
The commission penetrated the core weirdness of American drug attitudes. It asked, for instance, why we have such fear of legalizing marijuana.
Why do we reject scientific experts who say marijuana is harmless and listen to plaid-jacketed policemen in Peoria who say marijuana is a "gateway drug?" Most motorcycle riders once rode bicycles, but no one calls bicycling a "gateway" to the Hell's Angels.
"Many see the drug as fostering a counterculture, which conflicts with basic moral precepts as well as with the operating functions of our society," the report said, nailing it.
In other words, pot isn't pot; It's the '60s. It's dropping out, loafing around the bong, promiscuous free love, dissent against conformity, militarism, capitalism -- the whole far-left hippie-flippie-dippy rejection of the established value system.
But so is the war on drugs. Only it rejects America from the right.
Conservatives pound the table in support of limited government, fiscal prudence and constitutional principles.
Yet federal money to halt drug traffic and prosecute drug use rose by 1,000 percent between Nixon and Clinton. With no success. The Office of Management and Budget reports that none of the drug-war programs it reviewed is effective.
Unless you count expansion of a vast drug Gulag filled mostly with African-Americans and Latinos. The social divisions created, or made worse, by the war on drugs are hard to overstate. Still wonder why the jury acquitted O.J.?
Or unless you count the rise and stupendous enrichment of drug suppliers. The war on drugs does nothing to reduce demand. But it drives supply into the black market. Cartels are so powerful they undermine governments from Columbia to Miami.
And the wiretaps. The surveillance. Conservatives howled when the Supreme Court recently strengthened governments' powers to take your home through eminent domain; but they roll over when Big Government finds drugs in your cookie jar and takes your home under asset-seizure laws.
What legitimized reducing precious civil liberties and gulled Americans into swallowing the Patriot Act?
The war on drugs.
What compromised fiscal conservatives and allowed George Bush's administration to outspend the previous Democrat! record-holder, Lyndon B. Johnson?
The war on drugs.
What's a big cause of the apathy and cynicism of young voters?
"Our youth cannot understand why society chooses to criminalize a behavior with so little visible ill effect or adverse social impact," Nixon's commission said about pot.
"And the disrespect for the possession laws fosters a disrespect for law and the system in general."
As for the worse drugs, a sensible compromise between legalization which would allow the government to regulate and tax drugs and would weaken the cartels and the failed war is decriminalization.
But there's no point starting that argument when we can't bring ourselves to give pot to people disabled or dying.
If you want Red Ribbon Week to work, tell kids the truth: Some drugs kill you, some addict you, and a lifestyle that revolves around drugs is one of higher risk and lower achievement.
But some drugs don't kill you, some don't addict you, and some people have the capacity to do some drugs in moderation and lead productive, happy lives. Millions, evidently.
Admittedly the ability to tell good choices from bad takes critical thinking skills. Some kids lack these. But critical thinking -- not the party line -- is what schools are supposed to teach.
Especially when the party line is war against the '60s -- or against some vague immorality -- and America is the first casualty.
Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at 209 546-8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org