Knowing When to Say When: Game Over in the War on Drugs
by Brian C. Bennett

This past February, DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson went to San Francisco to deliver a speech entitled "Let's Don't Punt on 3rd Down," while his employees simultaneously raided several Bay Area cannabis compassion clubs. Mr. Hutchinson may have been making a conscious change in metaphor, using football terminology rather than the more familiar "war on drugs" hyperbole to describe what his agency is up to; but what we all need to acknowledge is that this "game" was lost long before it ever began.

Despite the more than 80 years of efforts to prevent Americans from choosing their recreational intoxicants on their own terms, "illegal" drugs are cheaper, more pure and as available as they ever were to those who wish to use them. There are three really simple reasons why efforts to curb human drug-using behavior are doomed to failure: biology, economics, and the fundamental human tendency toward self-direction.

Humans, like many of their biological cousins in the animal kingdom are hard-wired for pleasure. There really is no way to change this short of chemical neutralization of certain brain structures, or "monkeying" with human DNA. Volunteers for this research are likely to be in short supply.

If we have learned nothing else in the "war on drugs," we should at least be capable of recognizing the simplicity of one of the primary lessons of economics: if there is a demand, a market will rise to meet the demand. Americans love drugs and use more of them (both legal and illegal) than any other country on Earth. No punishment for using or selling intoxicants has ever worked anywhere, despite a long history of attempts against coffee, tobacco, alcohol, or the current crop of taboo intoxicants. To learn from experience is a sign of intelligence.

Lastly, in a nation founded on fundamental "self-evident" truths, it really shouldn't be difficult to comprehend the most fundamental truth of all: free people have the right to self-determination. Our Constitution grants no power to anyone to govern self-directed, self-selected behaviors. How can anyone believe it is rational, moral or legal in any way to "punish" someone for doing something to themselves of their own free will? Not to mention, there is no provision for government control over the plant kingdom. The flora and fauna of Earth belong to no one, hence are not really the sort of thing over which one can claim rightful control. In any case, such power has not been granted by the people to their government.

Since Mr. Hutchinson has used a football metaphor to describe his approach to our nation's quixotic crusade against its own citizens, I have one for him: you're losing 63 to nothing, the ball is on your own one-yard line, and there are only 27 seconds left in the game. Taking a knee in this "game" is not a defeat of our moral resolve, it is a victory for fundamental human freedom.

Written April 25, 2002

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