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The Drug Legalization Debate


by Thomas L. Wayburn, PhD

Executive Director of the American Policy Institute, Inc.

Recently, a number of anti-drug editorials and Op-Ed pieces have appeared in the Houston Post disparaging drugs, drug users, drug merchants, and those who espouse drug legalization; but, today, December 13, 1993, was a record low for sheer volume of misguided opinion, misinformation, and incorrect bad reasoning - mostly as a response to the surgeon general's innocent off-hand reply to a questioner.

An interview with John Lucas, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs and a failed drug user, appeared on page one. The headline was: 'There are no benefits at all' to legalizing drugs in the U.S. Deborah Mathis on the Op-Ed page claims, "Proponents [of legalization], who come from all walks, have only one argument: It would reduce the violence tied to drugs."

Both of these statements are patently false. In my 1989 paper ["No One Has a Right To Impose an Arbitrary System of Morals on Others" in Drug Policy 1889-1990, A Reformer's Catalogue, Arnold S. Trebach and Kevin B. Zeese, Eds., The Drug Policy Foundation, Washington, D.C. (1989)], I listed twelve practical benefits of legalization. Mathis, at least, should be acquainted with my paper, which appeared in the mainstream of anti-prohibition literature.

The twelve practical benefits may be enumerated briefly (and incompletely) as follows: (1) remove the economic incentive, (2) eliminate the need to steal, (3) eliminate the violence, (4) take profits from criminals, (5) remove the thrill, (6) end the suffering and death caused by unmetered doses, impurities, dirty paraphernalia, cf. AIDS, substitutes, and substances that have only a short history of use, e.g., designer drugs, (7) provide more alternatives for users to select best or least harmful drug, (8) eliminate the "drug life", (9) restore many to useful endeavor, (10) permit people to treat simple ailments thus reducing health-care costs, (11) eliminate invasion of privacy, (12) eliminate pharmaceutical McCarthyism.

But, much more important is the one compelling ethical reason for legalizing drugs, namely, that any rational, non-politicized Supreme Court would find the laws against drugs unconstitutional because they violate the rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness as retained by the people in accordance with the Ninth Amendment and they violate the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment because: (i) taking or not taking drugs is a moral choice and moral choices are religious choices and (ii) taking drugs can be construed to be a religious ritual. It is inconceivable that the framers of the Constitution (1789) could have forgotten the Declaration of Independence. Any argument based on the "compelling interests of the State" would fail because the compelling interests of the State would be to legalize drugs to achieve the benefits enumerated above except insofar as the State should be interested to support the prevailing religious superstitions of the masses, which would be a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In the paper, I present many other arguments and answer all the objections of Mathis, Charles Rangel, and others. In fact, I make a complete case.

Today's Post reminded me that David Robinson, one of John Lucas' players, libeled all drug users as a class in a paid endorsement. Also, in an editorial about River Phoenix (11-18-93), The Houston Post wrote, "Every person who abuses drugs ... is directly responsible for the death and destruction caused by those drugs. It matters little whether his is a casual or serious use". [Italics mine]

To qualify as libel, a statement must be (i) untrue, (ii) malicious, and (iii) harmful. In the case of David Robinson, we all know what "scum" is. The great physicist William Rowan Hamilton was not scum, Charlie Parker was not scum, Lawrence Taylor is not scum. No human being can be truthfully said to be scum. In the case of the Houston Post, the statement is completely wrong, but the use of the word directly is easiest to refute. Obviously, the direct cause was the bullet, the impurities in the drug, or the excessive size of the dose, which was not standardized. As I showed in my 1989 paper, one might more properly blame the laws against drugs.

While the tone of Robinson's voice convicts him of malice, in the case of the Houston Post, the argument is more subtle - but more informative: It is difficult to reconcile logically the inclusion of "casual" use under "abuse", moreover abuse is not defined. Under "serious" use the author of the editorial has rashly failed to consider religious uses and artistic uses, which are clearly serious. The illogic of his verbiage indicates an emotionally charged state. Further consideration suggests that the operative emotion must have been malice. It is obvious that drug users suffer from this invective. If it does not lower their own self-esteem, it surely reduces their esteem in the eyes of at least some bigots. Thus, all the requirements of a class-action libel suit against David Robinson and the Houston Post have been met.

Juan Palomo's column of December 13 urges respect for Joycelyn Elder's suggestion. Paradoxically, he does not escape my criticism. He says we need "effective treatment programs". In my 1990 paper ["Fallacies and Unstated Assumptions in Prevention and Treatment" in The Great Issues of Drug Policy, Arnold S. Trebach and Kevin B. Zeese, Eds., The Drug Policy Foundation, Washington, D.C. (1990)], I denounced drug treatment. One may call the Drug Policy Foundation at (202) 537-5005 to obtain copies of these publications. In some cases I will supply copies of my papers upon request.

In present day America, however, I would not expect many people to be swayed by my reasoning. Three hundred years ago, in his famous Essay Concerning Human Understanding [Oxford: Clarendon Press, New York (1979)], John Locke wrote "[H]ow can we imagine that [anyone] should renounce those tenets which time and custom have so settled in his mind that he thinks them self-evident, and of unquestionable certainty; or which he takes to be impressions he has received from God himself, or from men sent by Him? How can we expect, I say, that opinions thus settled should be given up to the arguments ... of a stranger or adversary?" Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky discuss how the modern totalitarian state works in their book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media [Pantheon Books, New York (1988)]. In America, the multi-national corporations and their servants - the State and the Church - impress the weak-minded. Strangely, the talking heads on TV are perceived as men sent by God himself - even though many people claim to hate them.

John Lucas got at least one thing right. "The war on drugs has not been a failure." The war on drugs has managed to create an irrational bias against drugs in many people who are capable of fairly reasonable decisions when it comes to taking care of their automobiles - for example. The war on drugs has been successful in promoting falsehood and tyranny.

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