Vice is Nice

Published in The Tucson Weekly on December 15, 1994

I am a born-again Christian and a veteran of Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign, and I would like to say 2.95 cheers to Pia Hinckle for her fine piece "Vice Grip" (Tucson Weekly, November 10) which describes, in detail, the problems caused by drug prohibition. Its timing --it hit the Tucson streets two days after the Republican electoral rout -- is most ironic.

Conservatives are fond of pointing our examples of the unintended consequences of various public policies. Thirty years of the welfare state, they contend, have not ended poverty; thirty years of increased government intrusion in education have lowered the quality of education; gun control disarms only law abiding citizens, thus leaving them defenseless against criminals.

Curiously, they do not apply the same logic to the Drug War. If they did, they would quickly realize how futile it is. After decades of statist attempts to stop drug use, and after 12 years of a virtual jihad against drugs, drug use is just a pervasive as ever and we have a plethora of other problems as well.

Conservatives, who so rightfully inveigh against political correctness, have made drug prohibition the object of more political correctness than perhaps any other issue. When Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders suggested that legalizing drugs would reduce crime, the liberal media descended on her as if she had suggested bringing back slavery. One just does not say such things in polite society.

Hinckle's article would merit a full three cheers, except that she overlooks two key points. First, some of the best known critics of the Drug War are highly respected conservatives. Author-columnist William F. Buckley and economist Milton Friedman have both written frequently on the folly of drug prohibition. Others on record as opponents of the Drug War are Reagan's Secretary of State George Schultz, Reagan economic advisor Paul Craig Roberts and evangelist Charles Colson.

Second, for all the melodramatic ranting surrounding the Drug War, illegal drugs account for less than one percent of all recreational drug deaths. Tobacco and alcohol are responsible for almost half a million deaths annually. Although attempts are being made to increase tobacco and restrict its use, almost no one seriously advocates outlawing smoking. The history of the 1920s points out the silliness of alcohol prohibition.

This history is repeating itself with our current "noble experiment" known as the War on Drugs. The economics of drug prohibition are the same as those of alcohol prohibition. Hinckle is to be commended for exposing the Drug War for what it is: a counterproductive, unwinnable, utopian farce.

Douglas F. Newman

Freely Speaking: Speeches and Essays by Doug Newman

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