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By PHIL HOSKINS
The Ã¢â‚¬Å“War on DrugsÃ¢â‚¬Â has been going on for several decades now without any discernable benefit to either our country as a whole or the American people. It has produced this minimal benefit while exacting a very high price, both in terms of dollars spent and the toll on the lives of people caught up in its net.
Our prisons bulge with people whose Ã¢â‚¬Å“crimeÃ¢â‚¬Â is frequently one having only themselves as the Ã¢â‚¬Å“victim.Ã¢â‚¬Â These are the users of substances deemed dangerous by the Federal Drug Administration who has been granted authority to name and rank substances by their perceived danger. Congress apparently is unable on its own to discern the difference between methamphetamines and marijuana so it has given the bureaucrats at the FDA the authority to do so.
Not only is this of doubtful wisdom as a political and Constitutional matter, it is really an act of cowardice by politicians anxious to mollify those who think some substances are the devilÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s handiwork. Did our founding fathers really contemplate a system where government was instituted to protect us from ourselves, to dictate what could and could not be done with oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s own body? Undoubtedly the answer is no. This is the brainchild of two strains of thought that have run through our nationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s history, ebbing and flowing.
One thread is based in a Puritanical religious fervor which claims the moral authority to dictate the lives and actions of others. This tradition abhors almost everything that might be described as Ã¢â‚¬Å“funÃ¢â‚¬Â and has sought to ban everything from dancing to alcohol to same-sex marriage.
The other tradition is rooted in the primacy of commercial values, contending that those who promote commercial interests have the right to require all citizens to play in their game. They base their opposition to the use of mind-altering substances on Ã¢â‚¬Å“productivityÃ¢â‚¬Â issues: workers should not be able to choose being stoned because it isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t productive; one should always be at oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s peak because that is what a full economy demands. Other commercial interests would monopolize the production of mind altering substances to their own and protect their income stream for their own substances.
Of course neither tradition speaks openly to the electorate of its true objectives but rather cover them with the politics of fear. We are warned that smoking a joint will lead to jumping off a building (Ã¢â‚¬Å“Reefer MadnessÃ¢â‚¬Â) or that it is a Ã¢â‚¬Å“gateway drugÃ¢â‚¬Â that will force us to next become enslaved to heroin or crystal meth. Studies are promoted to show that indeed, some substances alter our brain activity and some even do so permanently.
Why the government should have the power and right to prevent the alteration of my brain escapes me completely. Is it not my right to do so at my own will, to kill as many brain cells as I may wish? Where in the Constitution did I give that right to the bureaucrats at the FDA? Whose body is this anyway?
This is a fight that long ago was lost. Americans have all along vetoed the War on Drugs Ã¢â‚¬â€œ except as it may apply to others. Marijuana use continues unabated. The use of illegal substances waxes and wanes as to any particular substance, but we have proven ourselves to be incredibly resourceful in finding what we want and need.
The arguments against this Ã¢â‚¬Å“War on DrugsÃ¢â‚¬Â have been stated many times in many places so I need not repeat them all here. It is time, however, that we declare the war over. It is time to reclaim for our individual self the right to govern our own body and our own actions, so long as they do not impinge on those of another person. It is time to face reality and stop the wasteful spending of hundreds of billions of dollars to imprison people who are after nothing more than their own version of happiness.
Yes, removing criminal sanctions from all substances will lead to abuses and harm. So does the present system, which produces a huge underground delivery system and prevents reasonable efforts to prevent those abuses and ameliorate that harm.
This is one more issue upon which Congress needs to face reality and take the risk that getting it right may alienate a few loud moralists but redound to the health and vitality of our nation and the political process. Congress needs to end this Ã¢â‚¬Å“warÃ¢â‚¬Â and get the government out of the business of controlling our lives.
(Phil Hoskins is a Hollywood attorney who founded Ã¢â‚¬Å“Take Back West Hollywood.Ã¢â‚¬Â)