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A Middle Course on Drugs

Posted on January 6, 2014
marijuana_leaf

I guess if I had taken up pot smoking when I was in high school, I would have ended up as a New York Times columnist.

If I did cocaine, I could have been President.

Instead, I am doing whatever it is that I am doing.

When I was in 7th grade, I promised myself that I would never smoke cigarettes or smoke pot.  Cocaine was never in the realm of the possible.

And for next 38 years or so, I have kept to that promise.

Even back then, I made an exemption for cigars, and I smoke the odd cigar every now and then.

But when it comes to pot smoking, that was never something that I had any interest in doing.

David Brooks wrote a column last week lamenting his pot use when he was a kid, and warning others not to follow in his footsteps.   The Brooks tale is not exactly cautionary.  His career seemed to work out all right.

Both Barack Obama and reportedly George Bush (and I assume Bill Clinton), did some coke in their day, and they turned out ok too.

Brooks says he was embarrassed by some of his actions when he was high.  I can promise you that I have plenty of my own embarrassing moments that wake me up in the middle of the night, and some of them happened even when I was sober.

So, doing silly or stupid stuff when smoking pot is not a sufficient reason to ban pot smoking for everybody.

The country seems about ready to end its silly war on pot.

The lure of additional tax revenues is just too strong for some politicians, and the pot marketplace is just too powerful for the Federal government to stop without resorting to Gestapo-like tactics.

The more we fight the war on drugs as a war, the more we seem to lose.

That is not to say that drug use is a victimless crime.  Addiction to drugs is an epidemic more serious than any one of us wants to imagine.

It costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars in lost economic activity.  Fighting the war on drugs costs lives, putting people behind bars for drug use or drug peddling wastes hundreds of billions of dollars to the federal treasury.

We should fight drug addiction like we would fight AIDs.  With resources, with a communications campaign, with public education and with a healthy dose of compassion.

To the DEA, fighting the war on drugs is all about going after the sellers and limiting the supply.  But as you have buyers, you will have sellers, and as long as you have users, you will have demand.

There has to be a middle ground, somewhere between criminalization and commercialization.  There has to an alternative to three strikes and you’re out.

Here is my proposal.  Make it harder to get public assistance if you are on drugs.   And allow the private sector to help limit drug use to protect their own bottom lines.

Certain industries are all about drugs.  Music, entertainment, poetry.   Drugs can arguably make people even more creative in those pursuits.

But other professions have a vested interest in making sure that employees don’t do drugs.  Pilots, bus drivers, nurses and dentists come to mind.

If you have a job, the private sector should be able to sort out their drug policies, as long as public safety is not an issue.    When safety is at issue, the government should probably step in with some mandatory tests.

But when it comes to people applying for welfare or food stamps, it should be a pretty simple calculation.  You don’t get food stamps or unemployment benefits or any government welfare if you can’t pass a drug test.   We shouldn’t pay people to stay at home and smoke doobies all day.

We should be under no illusions that rampant drug use is in any way good for American society, but we should also acknowledge that there is high demand for getting high, and that instead of trying to beat the market, the government should just try to regulate it.