Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Drug Laws

Guest Voices

I wrote a piece in 2010, The War on Drugs a Failure, a view shared by many morally thoughtful people who agree that marijuana use ought to be decriminalized if not legalized and controlled, much like alcohol consumption. This notion does not have universal appeal, and many right thinking people disagree, including Prof George Jochnowitz who holds a view that the current drug laws ought to be strictly enforced, including for the personal use of marijuana. "Drugs are a concern because everyone's life is affected if a large segment of the population cannot function effectively," Jochnowitz writes.

by George Jochnowitz
Recreational drugs are destructive for a variety of reasons: they are addictive, either physically or psychologically, and thus take away the user's freedom; they are expensive and lead to crime; they can lead to death through overdose or AIDS. Even if they were cheap, non-addictive and safe, they would still be bad because they are a lie. An escape from reality is a flight into the unreal. A preference for the world of dreams is a choice to deny the existence of truth.

Vices, like birds of a feather, flock together; therefore, addiction is linked with crime, violence and nastiness. Although there is nothing inherently impossible about being an addict and moving in a world of charming and considerate people, it is very unlikely. Individuals may turn to drugs for a variety of reasons; cultures do so because they have given up on reality. Drugs do not erase harsh facts. Indeed, surrendering to addiction means accepting the permanence of the unpleasant aspects of society. Drug cultures, whose members have surrendered to their habits, are therefore societies where unpleasantness runs rampant.

Law enforcement has not been especially successful. Perhaps a reason is the existence of a gray area, where certain illegal activities are ignored. Marijuana is the major example of a controlled substance that is not particularly controlled. Pot smoking has pointed the way along the not-too-illegal route to crack smoking. There should be no such thing as a not-too-illegal route. Since the worlds of selling marijuana and selling hard drugs overlap, arresting pot dealers might lead to locating crack and heroin dealers.

Many will say that this gray area can be eliminated by simply legalizing pot, arguing that perhaps a majority of Americans between the ages of 15 and 50 have smoked it and that it doesn't seem to be physically addictive; it may be psychologically addictive, but so are crossword puzzles.

I maintain that marijuana should not be legalized because it doesn't have to be. Even if the damage it does is relatively slight, society is better off without it. It causes traffic accidents by impairing judgment and leads to lung cancer. Like all recreational drugs, including alcohol, it sets reality at nought and consequently leads to apathy, to say nothing of the desire for more potent substances. If it were readily available, seven-year-olds could get hold of it as easily as they now can obtain cigarettes.

Prohibition caused the consumption of alcohol to go down. There was an awful lot of drinking going on before Repeal, but there is more now. The prohibition experiment failed because the law could not be enforced, and not because the lure of the forbidden tempted people to drink. Alcohol has been the world's favorite recreational drug for millennia. It could not be suppressed; marijuana can be.

Addiction is not easily cured, and addicts will go to extremes when they feel they have to. The law holds no terrors for them as great as the fear of deprivation. We must give up on these people for the sake of those who are not yet addicted. Any addict should be able to go to a heroin or crack distribution office as they now go to a methadone center. An addict should have to carry an identification card with his fingerprint on it. The purpose of free distribution is to take the profit motive away from dealers. Every time they succeed in making a new addict, they will lose him to the free center.

Distribution of cocaine and heroin will attract many more clients than methadone programs ever did. No one wants methadone for its own sake. Those who are addicted to crack and heroin would certainly prefer not to go to a government office for their fix, but the high cost of drugs will drive them there sooner or later. Local and international distributors of drugs will still be able to sell to new addicts, but when they find their monetary rewards drastically reduced, the high risk of the operation will make the selling of drugs a profession that is not cost effective.

As for marijuana, it should not be distributed free for the same reason that it should not be legalized: it doesn't have to be. It is not as well established as alcohol; it is not as addictive as heroin.

Some may argue that a free society should not prohibit drugs at all, that people should have the right to destroy their own lives as long as they don't directly affect others. Freedom, including the freedom to choose enslavement to drugs, is a very serious issue; unfortunately, addiction does harm non-addicts. Drugs are a concern because everyone's life is affected if a large segment of the population cannot function effectively.

Addicts cannot drive trains, fly planes or run machines. As their number grows, they become an increasing burden to others. Our culture tolerates alcoholism because it has no choice, not because drinking is harmless. Everyone would be better off if there were fewer alcoholics. Crack and heroin are more destructive than alcohol. They need not be tolerated. We still have a choice.


George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937. He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects. As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at george@jochnowitz.net.

Copyright ©2012. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. An earlier version of this essay appeared in George Jochnowitz. It is republished here with the author's permission.