Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

War against Drugs Is War of Morality

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

War against Drugs Is War of Morality

Article excerpt

William F. Buckley Jr. and several essayists make a strong case in the Feb. 12 National Review for declaring the war on drugs lost and retreating from unsuccessful attempts stop drug use.

Arguing from a utilitarian position, Buckley and company correctly note that we are spending too much for too little. Nearly half those in prison are there for drug-related offenses, many for simple possession.

The core arguments by Buckley and the others are:

That prohibition of drugs has failed more miserably than the '20s Prohibition.

That the cost to taxpayers is not worth it.

That politicians mislead the public by "demagoging" about drugs while knowing they can do little about them.

That prison costs could be sharply reduced if drugs were decriminalized.

That drugs harm only the person who uses them.

That a "federal drugstore" could control and dispense drugs to those who want them, driving down prices and removing the criminal sting from the drug trade.

The arguments are worth considering. Hard-core drug users are a tiny minority of the population. Casual drug users pose no threat to the country, yet they are often pursued and prosecuted with the same zeal as dealers. Warrantless seizures of property, even during searches that turn up minor drug infractions, may violate the Constitution.

There are two problems with this reasoning. One is the utilitarian approach to public policy. Should the purpose of law be to achieve goals that benefit only the well-off and strong? Are cause and effect the only criteria by which public policy and the validity of laws should be judged? Should the law fit behavior and compliance or should law shape them?

By the standard argued in National Review (which is no standard), Brown vs. Board of Education was bad law because in 1954 substantial numbers of Americans believed in segregated schools. And the pro-life Buckley would lose his philosophical legs on abortion because of those who say we can't go back to outlawing (or at least restricting) the procedure because too many have had them and too many are used to being able to get one if they want. …

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