End the Drug War
This post was inspired by news that a young father who worked as a police officer was killed during a drug raid in Ogden, Utah. I originally posted the story on my Facebook page and commented that lives could have been saved had the raid not happened. Not surprisingly, I got some negative feedback. I posted the following commentary and was surprised to find that many people expressed their agreement. I’ve decided to post it here.
The victim of the raid was a young veteran who was mentally ill and using marijuana for personal use. Several other police officers were injured, as well as the victim of the raid. He has since been charged for his actions.
Drug policy in the United States is a complete mess. To start, marijuana is not a drug. Marijuana is a plant. THC is a drug that happens to be present in marijuana, just the same way that nicotine happens to be present in tobacco, or opium happens to be present in poppies. Poppies aren’t a drug and tobacco isn’t a drug. In the same way, neither is marijuana.
How is it that marijuana is completely prohibited but tobacco is perfectly fine? Marijuana kills approximately zero people per year and produces negative but relatively mild long term effects in users. Tobacco kills close to half a million people per year in the United States alone, is highly addictive, and produces serious and negative long term effects in users. Let me repeat that. The CDC reports that tobacco kills close to half a million people per year in the United States. They also claim that 25 million people who are now living will die prematurely due to tobacco use (again, in the US). Think about that number for a minute. 25 million people is equal to the number of people living in:
and yet tobacco use is generally accepted as normal by society and is perfectly legal.
Alcohol was once under prohibition. When that happened, an illicit alcohol production and distribution industry sprang up which produced general criminality and violence, and virtually no decrease in either alcohol consumption or alcohol users. Organized crime and gang violence followed the alcohol industry wherever it was. Once prohibition ended, the associated criminality and violence evaporated. Today we don’t see Coors Lite and Miller Lite distributors shooting each other in turf disputes. However, alcohol remains as dangerous as ever. The CDC reports that alcohol use produces 80,000 deaths per year in the US, and is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death (tobacco use being number one). Alcohol produces in users a tendency toward reckless and destructive behaviors including violence, promiscuity, risk-taking, and mental and physical impairment. It is destructive to the body and destroys families and lives like no other drug. Estimates vary but somewhere in the range of 10% of adults regularly get high on alcohol. Alcohol use is generally accepted as normal by society.
The economic costs of alcohol and tobacco use are staggering. Studies suggest that the cost per user in health care alone for tobacco users is 40 times that of marijuana users and the cost per user for alcohol users is 8 times that of marijuana users.
Any person who advocates prohibition of marijuana but not of alcohol and tobacco is a hypocrite. The violence and criminality associated with marijuana production and sale would likely not exist if marijuana prohibition was ended, and the organized criminal element would evacuate their positions within the industry overnight.
Now, to the specifics of this case: by all accounts, the man who was the victim of the raid was a marijuana user, possibly a dealer and was growing marijuana in the home. He was likely mentally ill. The cost of the raid of his home, when all is said and done, is likely to wind up being somewhere in the tens- to hundreds of millions of dollars. That includes the original cost of the raid, the investigation, prosecution, incarceration, and perhaps execution of the man, his hospital bills, the hospital bills of the injured officers, the insurance costs to the injured and dead police officers and their families, the legal costs of any civil suit or investigation, the lost productivity of the injured officers, disability payments and the increased health care costs to them for the remainder of their lives, the therapy costs for the officers and families, the funeral costs for the dead officer, the opportunity cost of 30 more years of work that he won’t get to perform, and last but not least, think of the cost to his family.
His daughters are now much more likely to engage in destructive and criminal behavior due to being raised in a single parent household. His death will affect them in a profound and negative way for the rest of their lives, and will probably affect their children for their entire lives in a negative way. His wife has just had her life completely destroyed. Tonight his wife and daughters are lying in their beds alone. They never got to say goodbye and he is never coming back. Imagine that for a moment. You can imagine what it would be like to not come home to your wife and children. Imagine how destructive your death would be to your family. Imagine how your spouse would react. Imagine your parents. The dead officer will be the first thought of his wife when she wakes up and the last thought before she goes to bed every day for the rest of her life. She will probably cry every day for years. Is the world a better place now? Is it safer?
Now, think of the alternative: the victim of the raid was probably mentally ill and had a drug use problem. Treatment for those two (likely related) problems would cost, and I’m just guessing here, somewhere in the range of less than $100,000, at most. Even if he had to return to treatment a few times, the cost would not be prohibitive. At the end of the treatment, he would likely be a much better man and would be well equipped to help other people who suffer from the same problems. If he was currently selling marijuana he would stop doing so. The world would be a better and safer place.
Hundreds of drug users and mentally ill people could be treated for the costs produced by that single raid. What happened on Wednesday in Ogden was a complete tragedy and completely avoidable.
One final thought that I really think is relevant. It’s been my experience that most advocates of drug prohibition are Christian and I think the following might help Christian drug warriors reconsider. Drug use is destructive and morally wrong, but affects the user most of all. I’m including alcohol and tobacco in this statement. Remember the woman taken in adultery? She was acting destructively toward herself and her partner (and of course her husband if she had one). I’m going to include the story in John 8 from the KJV here.
“Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.
But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
Imagine how different the story would have been if Jesus would have said, “Well, the law says stone her so let’s go find some rocks. Adultery is illegal. Tie her down, boys.”
I’m well aware that this story is not in the earliest manuscripts, but it is entirely consistent with the rest of the Christian Biblical narrative. Drug users, like the woman, need help and compassion. This poor man was suffering. His drug use was only a reflection of some greater problem, as is the case with most drug users. We have the means to give compassion and help. The current drug policy treats drug users like the Pharisees wanted to treat the woman (except if they’re using the drugs that are arbitrarily allowed even though they are much more damaging, which is then, of course, perfectly fine). They are locked up, treated as criminals, put in prison, and no attention is given to the underlying cause, and then people are surprised when they keep using. The raid victim is likely going to spend the rest of his life in prison.
The current drug policy is at fault for the officer’s death and the deaths of thousands more.