Earlier, I wrote about whether the phrase ‘greenhouse gas pollution’ is accurate, and whether it might be useful for building political will to do something about climate change. The phrase is accurate – CO2 is an unwanted by-product of various processes and it does harm to people all over the world – and it may be a useful way to remind people that ‘greenhouse gas emissions’ are a real problem that needs to be dealt with. It calls to mind phrases like “make the polluter pay [for the cost of cleaning up pollution]”.
I wonder whether a similar change in language might be helpful for opposing unreasonable drug laws. Mention ‘marijuana legalization’ and the eyes of the people around you will glaze over. They have heard the debate, they have their view, and they probably don’t care about it too strongly one way or the other.
Maybe we can do better by saying things like: “End marijauana prohibition” or “End the prohibition of drugs”.
People remember the prohibition of alcohol, the way it failed, and the problems it caused. It enriched organized crime and pushed alcohol use underground. It led to inferior and dangerous kinds of alcohol being sold. It cost tax revenues, crowded the prisons, and so on. All this is true of drug criminalization today. Most of the problems associated with drugs only exist because they are illegal, or are made much worse because they are illegal. Drug prohibition turns the drug trade into a violent, dangerous business and it turns ordinary people who use substances that are often more benign than alcohol or tobacco into criminals.
Al Capone was the natural consequence of alcohol prohibition. His successors created by the drug war may be less famous – and they may kill more people in Mexico than in Chicago – but their business has arisen for exactly the same reason, and operates according to the same logic. Stratfor describes what has been happening recently in Mexico as “a stalemate” “between the Sinaloa Federation, Los Zetas and the government” and argue that it has produced 50,000 deaths. That is more than 16 times the number of people killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. It’s about 6% of the number of deaths associated with the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Ending drug prohibition just makes sense. It is both unethical and ineffective for governments to try to control what consenting adults do with their bodies. Their efforts to assert that control are doing demonstrable harm. Perhaps by speaking about the situation in terms of ‘ending prohibition’ rather than ‘legalizing’ this or that, the political debate can be moved forward just a little.