John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Nationalize the Narcotics Industry

Posted on November 29, 2008



            I was talking to some family members over the long weekend (we had lots of time to talk) about the state of the nation, what is happening with our society, especially about the younger generations.  I brought up a story that ran in the Washington Post about some middle class high school kids who got involved in heroin, including one who overdosed and died.


Illegal drugs are killing too many of our kids.  That was one thing we all agreed.   One family member said we should legalize all the drugs.  Another, who works in law enforcement, joked that if we did that, he would be out of a job.  (Most of his business is dealing with the war on drugs and its aftermath).    Many people I respect are dead-set against the drug legalization theory.  They believe it will make the country much less productive and much less safe.


I believe that the war on drugs has been a failure.  Crystal meth is as easy to get as ever.  Kids are using heroin at an alarming rate.  Whole sections of our country basically ignore our laws on marijuana. 


Worse, the war on drugs continues to destabilize allies and neighbors.  Mexico is in a state of near collapse.  Columbia has fought the good fight, but they are spending countless resources against the Marxist drug lords.  Afghanistan’s only profitable export is poppies that produce heroin.


Narcotics are bad and bad for you.  But making the drugs illegal makes them even more destructive.  It drives up the price, puts the production in the hands of criminals, creates a profitable black market for thieves, and makes users criminals which in turn causes even more illegal behavior.


I have never used drugs.  I keep to alcohol as my one vice, but alcohol is a good example of what happens when governments make behavior that many people want to engage in illegal.  Many Americans wanted to have a drink in the 1920s, but because of Prohibition, they were prohibited from doing so.  As a result, organized crime took over the delivery of the beer and whiskey business, speakeasies prospered, and millions of Americans ignored the laws the land for more than a decade.  


That experiment didn’t work so well, and in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation to make drinking legal again. The 18th Amendment was repealed later that year. Commenting on the failures of Prohibition, wealthy industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., wrote:


“When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.”


While drug and alcohol are different, they have some similarities.  Both can be highly addictive, both can cause impairment, and both can be bad for your health. 


But narcotics, especially heroin, crystal meth and cocaine can have especially devastating consequences for users.  So, simply legalizing these substances will be bad for society as a whole. 


Instead of legalizing them, we should think about nationalizing them.   The government should buy vast quantities of the drugs to drive down the price, which would encourage producers in Columbia and Afghanistan to look for other lines of work. 


Then, it should sell these drugs, in its own tightly controlled stores, to users who may want the drugs.  This could have two effects.  It would encourage users to come out of the underworld, giving the government the chance to educate them about their long-term health effects of persistent drug use.  Second, it would make drugs far less cool to use.  Think about it.  What is the glamour in using drugs when they are sanctioned and controlled by the government?


I know that the Office National Drug Control Policy and its United Nations counterpart believe that they have the situation well in hand.  They believe that they are winning the war on drugs.  But they need to take a real look, without the rose-colored glasses, about what the policies on the war on drugs have delivered for us.  Most offenders in prison are there because of drugs charges (fully 70%). 


We are spending billions of dollars trying to stop people from using substances that they want to use to get high.  (A lot of these folks are so desperate, they are turning to sniffing glue to get their high.  We can’t ban glue.)  We should address the underlying causes of this national tragedy, rather than just throw more people in prison for getting high.


Kids are killing kids, drug gangs are targeting innocent civilians and in some sections of America, it is more dangerous to go out at night than in the mountains of Afghanistan.  All because of this war on drugs.


Many will say that this is a fight we can win if we keep fighting it in the same way.  I wonder if that is so.  I don’t think we are winning the war on drugs.   And I think we should think of another strategy.