Legalization of Drugs a Dubious Battle with an Inglorious History

War is an inherently contradictory enterprise. The Revolutionary War, for instance, was waged to insure "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The men who fought for these ideals subsequently imperiled their lives, forfeited their liberty to the dictates of military service, and abandoned the pursuit of happiness to the grim necessities of combat.

Clearly, the only reasonable justification for war is the hope of eventual peace. Sane combatants fight for an end to fighting. Thus understood, the so-called "War on Drugs" was doomed from the start. So, too, was the war on murder.

Killing your fellow citizen has been illegal since biblical times, yet people still kill each other with discouraging regularity. Every major police department has a homicide section whose sole purpose is to investigate these events at considerable expense to the public coffers. Despite our failure to eliminate mayhem, nobody suggests that we should legalize murder. Maybe violence is simply a facet of the human predicament -- a vice that societies must deal with as part of the cost of doing business.

If the propensity to violence is an innate human characteristic, so too is the "pleasure principle." That theorem states that people tend to do things that feel good. Unfortunately, some of these pleasurable activities have harmful side effects for society at large.

Proponents of legalizing drugs seldom mention that we've already tried that strategy. History recounts that opium was brought to the American frontier by Chinese railroad laborers. At the time, it was perfectly legal. Heroin enjoyed a brief popularity as an ingredient in cough syrups and elixirs. Not coincidentally, there were more heroin addicts in New York in 1900 than there were during the freewheeling Sixties. When LSD was introduced into the mainstream, cops were powerless to prevent its usage. All of these substances came to be outlawed because of the deleterious impact they had upon public order. Lifting the ban against them will not solve the problems that got them banned in the first place.

A popular argument for legalization states that eliminating the sanctions against narcotics would take the profit motive out of their distribution. I've never understood how that is supposed to work. What product can you name that is sold without profit?

Who would supply the newly legal demand for drugs? We are currently in the process of suing cigarette manufacturers for billions because of the long-term health effects of their product. Can you imagine the product liability associated with marketing PCP and crack cocaine? Getting criminals out of the drug trade is like trying to get the spots out of Dalmatians.

Repealing drug laws would make potentially lethal narcotics as commonplace as draft beer at a frat party.

The problem with the War on Drugs is not its intent, but its name. Cops don't wage war; they enforce laws necessitated by human folly, which never goes out of fashion. That's why they need a pension plan.

M.W. Guzy is a former police detective and school teacher who now writes a weekly column for the St.Louis Post Dispatch.


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