PROCEEDINGS AND DEBATES OF THE 104th CONGRESS, SECOND SESSION
WASHINGTON, TUESDAY, JANUARY 23, 1996
Senate(Legislative day of Monday, January 22, 1996)
DRUG LEGALIZATION * Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, yesterday the New York
Times ran a piece noting that the lead story in the next issue of the National Review is
going to call for the legalization of drugs. The rationale for this argument is that the
war on drugs has failed and that the only solution is to declare defeat and turn the
asylum over to the inmates.
I am not sure just what information the folks at the National Review are using, but the facts are flawed and the argument is dumb and irresponsible.
Mr. Buckley, the author of the piece, is safe in making such arguments because he personally does not plan to use drugs. No one of his immediate acquintance is likely to start using dangerous drugs. So the consequences of his advocacy will not be felt personally. Instead, the burden of his ideas will be borne by countless families whose kids -- the most at-risk population -- will fall victim to the consequences of drug abuse. The costs will also be borne by the public purse, as we have to treat the walking wounded.
Although there is no public support for the idea of legalization, and none in the Congress, some of our culture elite -- left and right -- keep raising the idea as if it had some intellectual merit. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I am therefore submitting for the RECORD a longer statement on the common mistakes made in the legalization argument that I hope will help in closing this latest chapter in foolishness.
The statement follows:
Mistake #3: Legalization will mean a healthier climate in which controlled
drug use will provide quality control and monitored use
This argument misses or misrepresents the issue. The issue is not whether we make drugs, which are inherently dangerous to use, more pure, but whether we permit their use at all. Britain led the way in trying to treat dangerous drug use as a therapeutic problem, regulating addicts through doctors' care. This was not an open drug policy for anyone to use drugs but a policy just for addicts. The result was a disaster. It did not prevent the spread of drug abuse. It only made doctors complicit in the act of promoting an addiction for which they had no cure. In effect, it reversed the normal doctor-patient relationship, putting doctors in the position of making their patients worse off. As a result, in Britain, addiction soared, addicts got worse not better, and the black market flourished. Similar experiences have visited similar efforts in other countries. Now, it seems that Switzerland is experimenting with a variation of this approach. The results are likely to be a similar disaster, making the government and the medical community complicit in spreading addiction.
It is also important to keep in mind, that dangerous drugs are not synonymous with other controlled pharmaceuticals. The latter are controlled but they also have a therapeutic purpose. Dangerous drugs have no medical purpose. They are addictive and destructive. To argue that these drugs should be self-administered with the only control being over their quality is to argue for a massive increase in the addict population, adding an even greater burden to an over-taxed health-care system. In effect, the legalization argument requires society to endorse a self-destructive behavior and then requires society to provide perpetual care to the victims at public expense.
Mistake #4: Deterrence does not work
When you talk to former addicts or those who have given up use, one of the most important reasons they give for their decision to quit or seek treatment was the threat of criminal prosecution, the difficulty of acquiring drugs, and the cost. When drugs are perceived as expensive, dangerous and wrongful to use, difficult to get, and involve a risk of criminal prosecution, potential users forego use, and many current users quit. This remains true even though most enforcement efforts focus not on users but on violent offenders and drug traffickers.
No program to prohibit drug use can be universally effective. Although we have long-standing laws against child abuse or murder or theft, these have not prevented any of these acts completely. No one doubts their importance, however, or the role they play in discouraging yet more of these actions than if they were not prohibited.
Mistake #5: Legalizing drugs will remove the `Forbidden Fruit' appeal of drugs, which leads most new users, especially the young, into use
If this is a valid argument, then anything that society prohibits for the general good would succumb to the same argument. Forbidding child abuse encourages child abuse. Prohibiting murder encourages it. This is the logic of the argument. In fact, the reverse in the case. We educate people's understanding of what is rightful or wrongful to do by the laws that we declare and enforce. Even during Prohibition, when use was legal, the simple message sent by society that use was bad caused significant drops in use. Whenever we have enforced our drug laws and backed these up with education and prevention programs endorsed by our civic and cultural leaders, we have seen use decline and young people forego use. When we ignore this simple reality we see kids returning to drug use.
Unless one contemplates making cocaine and heroin routinely available to 12-18 year olds, something even few legalizers argue, then legalization will not remove the so-called `Forbidden Fruit' appeal. It will only add the idea that society condones use while continuing to prohibit access to the most at-risk population. Just the absence of a clear message on drug use in the last few years has seen teens returning to use in disturbing numbers. A legalization message would have devastating results.
Mistake #6: Drug use is a purely personal choice. It is a victimless crime. The state has no right to keep people from using drugs
The idea that an individual who uses drugs does so in some vacuum that affects no one else is another one of those fictions that obscures the facts. In the first place, drug users don't stay home. They go to work and play with the rest of us. They use the highways, they drive the school buses and trains, they fly the planes. They also encourage others to use, thus spreading the problem.
People under the influence of dangerous drugs are more prone to workplace accidents, are more likely to have highway accidents, are more prone to use violence in public and family disputes, and are at greater risk for health care than are non-users. Addicts are far more likely to lose control over their own lives, and are more in need of public intervention. A considerable percentage, perhaps as many as 60 percent, of the homeless are drug and alcohol addicts.
Some 2 percent of live births in this country--over 100,000 babies--are born addicted with life-long disabilities because their mothers used. Conservative estimates of the yearly social costs of drug addiction at current levels run around $70 billion. These costs are borne by families and the public purse. The number of users and consequently the number of addicts would soar under a legalization regime, compounding all the problems we currently have. There is no such thing as a purely private use of drugs without consequences. There is no known cure for addiction. A choice for legalization would be a self-inflicted disaster.
Mistake #7: Since alcohol and tobacco are legal, and cause far more harm than dangerous drugs, we should make heroin, cocaine, etc., legal to be consistent. Doing so would not increase the number of users significantly
Here is the legalization argument at its most outrageous. What people are asked to accept is the idea that because we have substances generally available that already cause major harm--tobacco and alcohol--we should add dangerous drugs to the occasions for woe for the sake of consistency. What the argument says is that since we have one major problem we should make it worse by adding another. Who are we kidding?
In order to rescue this logic from being completely ludicrous, people are asked to believe a further assertion: that under a legal regime there won't be an increase in users. Really? Let's look at what we are being asked to believe. We are going to make drugs cheaper and freely available. We are going to see them aggressively marketed by the producers. We are going to have society condone the use of addictive substances. But, we are not going to see a significant increase in use. Such is our understanding of human nature?
We saw what happened with drug use in this country in the 1960s and 1970s when we allowed the de facto legalization of drugs, condoning personal use and not enforcing our laws. That partial legal environment caused a dramatic increase in use. Can anyone doubt the effects if we condoned use outright? We cannot afford this kind of logic.
These are by no means the only myths. Others hold that drug laws are racist--which is another big lie, but even if true it is hardly an argument for making drugs legal; that the health consequences of personal use are exaggerated; or that drug laws lead to locking up lot of innocent people. None of these arguments can sustain serious attention or thought. Nor is there any major public support for drug legalization. The argument is pressed by only a few, some liberal, some conservative. To make the argument requires, however, suspension of judgment, a willingness to accept assertions over facts, and a professional absence of mind that ignores experience.
Unfortunately, while the argument for legalization has little public support, it is a major agenda item of many of our cultural elites. They have a disproportionate influence on our public discourse, on our radios and television, in the movies, in music and the arts. This means they have a disproportionate influence on the most at-risk population for drug users--our young people. By helping to obscure the message of the dangers of drug use, by encouraging it as part of a `liberated' life style, they contribute directly to use. When our political leaders remain silent they aid and abet this. The result in the 1960s made the point. Our recent experience confirms it: When you replace `Just Say No' with `Just Say Nothing' or `I didn't inhale,' you are opening the door to trouble.