Last night, CNN hosted Governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld in the first Libertarian Presidential Town Hall. Most questions that came from the audience allowed the two running mates to explain their views and talk about issues ranging from foreign intervention to taxes and the economy. In a Presidential election that has turned into a debate about who is better at calling each other names, and then persistently calling each other frauds, it was incredibly refreshing to witness a serious conversation about issues- regardless if I disagreed with them or not.
One question really stuck out to me: Maureen Morella of West Milford, New Jersey explained that her son, when 16, did a line of heroin, which adversely affected him to the point where he remains paralyzed and his parents are 100% responsible for taking care of him. Morella asked Johnson why he believes that drug legalization would help in situations like these, to which Johnson denied advocating the legalization of drugs and pinpointed only marijuana as capable of throttling the end of the drug war in this country.
Johnson was correct: While supporting a less crime-related drug epidemic, he did not specifically say – at least in the last 6 months – that he supports the full legalization of drugs.
Despite this, I think Johnson’s answer really did a disservice to Morella and her son. Being from New Jersey, it’s hard to come across someone- family, friends, acquaintances- who hasn’t been negatively affected by someone overdosing on heroin, or even simply using it. Heroin is an epidemic, and it doesn’t stop at the border of New Jersey- it’s nationwide and it’s a serious problem.
My heart goes out to Morella. What she and her family have experienced is heartbreaking and devastating, and from a personal standpoint, I can’t imagine going through that same situation.
As unfortunate as it is, the reality is that Morella’s son was a victim of the drug war. Morella intended on getting only an answer from Johnson that would advocate the continuation of the progressive war on drugs, and unfortunately – to a large extent – she received exactly what she wanted.
Drug desensitization was a big selling point against legalization of drugs by Morella. She argued that people, especially young people, have become so desensitized to the effects of drugs such as heroin that they would likely go out and try it, especially if it was legal.
I argue that drug desensitization is the direct consequence of prohibition. Prohibition has only increased the likelihood that a younger person ‘were’ to go out and try heroin. In most instances, younger people see that the only consequence of trying drugs is getting caught with them. So they do it one time, which becomes another, and another, and another- and then that person is lost.
The problem is not that they were desensitized, it is that society encouraged them to try it because of the grandstanding war against drugs and because of the lack of education about substance abuse in public and private education. If drug prohibition were to end and the problem with drug use were to be tackled as a health problem, drug desensitization would not be as prevalent among young people and I believe a radical decline in usage among young people would actually come to fruition.
Another point that Morella argued is that if we ‘were’ to treat this as a health problem, rather than a criminal problem, then people would still have access to drugs off the streets. I think it is pretty certain that no matter what is legal or illegal, people can access anything without going through regulation or proper channels. That being said, why would a heroin addict choose the street dealer who would almost certainly have unregulated heroin, over the clinic that has heroin that (while obviously still dangerous) is not nearly as dangerous as the dealers’? That’s essentially like choosing a shady dealer over Walgreens for your antibiotic. It just doesn’t make sense.
The whole point of legalizing drugs is to prevent people from overdosing and to keep them in a controlled setting in order to aid with their addiction. It isn’t to completely stop the addiction, it isn’t to regulate their body. It is to simply acknowledge that these dangers in society exist and to prevent tragedies by creating awareness and supplying private aid to those who need it.
There is no plainer way to put it: Drug prohibition has made it incredibly easy to access illegal drugs that, as Johnson pointed out during the town hall, have a large discrepancy in potency. No two drugs are the same. The result is an increased supply, an increased demand, and a severely unregulated and dangerous drug that causes overdoses and unpredictable effects that Morella’s son has experienced.
Morella argued that drug legalization would lead to more users and better access to harder drugs, but what has drug prohibition done? Do we have less users and less access to harder drugs? If drug prohibition worked, then why is Morella’s son paralyzed from doing a line of heroin? Why is there a raging epidemic that only spirals out of control when the government tries to step in and do even more harm?
If Morella’s stances and arguments were sustainable, drug prohibition would be working, I wouldn’t be writing this article, and Morella’s son would not be paralyzed. But that isn’t the case. Morella’s arguments fall flat because, quite frankly, they are the same arguments and thought process that started the drug war in the first place. Isn’t it ironic that for the more than 250 years that America has existed, the only real problem with these dangerous drugs occurred when people such as Morella started spreading fear and used the arbitrary force of government to quench that fear?
The simple fact is: heroin is illegal. It is a substance that the government has deemed will cause you and your brain and body harm. That’s all the government can do. But, like the absurdity of the gun control argument, when you ban something, it does not mean that that something goes away forever. In the case of the drug war, the negative and unforeseen consequence is clearly a wider and more volatile market that has only grown bigger because of the wealth that it produces and the addiction that it causes.
Unfortunately, this entire notion that drug prohibition is a failed, wasteful government backed killing scheme is only proven by victims such as Morella’s son. If heroin was a substance that would not have landed her son in a jail cell, would he have been one less victim of the government’s arbitrary power over our bodies? Without a doubt.
Morella’s son is not a criminal, but if it were up to the state or the government, he would be treated as one. Morella’s son’s dealer is not a criminal, but if it were up to the state or the government, he would be treated as one. That is the problem. Drug use and drug sales is not a criminal problem. Full stop.
Drug use and drug sales is a health problem. And no matter how much heroin or crack or marijuana or prescription painkillers you want off the streets, the problem will only get worse when you take the arbitrary power of government and force people to face criminal consequences for their health problems. Until this stops, Morella’s son will continue to join the millions seriously affected or killed by the unforeseen consequences of the drug war every day.
History reminds us that things can and do change. What seems inconceivable right now can seem entirely normal and inevitable in just a few short years. Take alcohol prohibition: in 1930, Senator Morris Shepard of Texas, who co-authored the 18th Amendment explained that, “There is as much chance to repealing the 18th Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet of Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.” Three short years later, alcohol prohibition ended.
While it may seem inconceivable to Morella, and to so many others, that government is the sole problem and instigator of heroin overdoses, of the expansion of our prison population, of the complete abandonment of limited-government and Constitutional principles, and the loss of personal liberty, prosperity, and property, there is no doubt that these people in society will realize someday that they were on the wrong side of history.