The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) opposes criminal drug prohibition. Not only has prohibition manifestly failed as a drug control strategy, but it subjects law-abiding citizens to arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment for what they do in private. By trying to enforce drug laws, the government is violating the fundamental rights to privacy and personal autonomy guaranteed by our Constitution. The ACLU believes that people should not be punished if they don`t hurt others — even if they hurt themselves. There are better ways to control drug use, ways that will ultimately lead to a healthier, freer and less criminal society. The Swiss "needle park", presented as a way to confine a few hundred heroin users to a small area, turned into a grotesque tourist attraction for 20,000 addicts and had to be closed before infecting the entire city of Zurich.2 Italy, where personal possession of a few doses of drugs such as heroin is generally exempt from criminal penalties, 2 has one of the highest rates of heroin dependence in Europe,3 with injecting drug use accounting for more than 60% of AIDS cases in that country.4 Third, the rate of criminal activity among drug users receiving methadone from hospitals, although declining, remains very high. The deputy director of the clinic estimates that the number of crimes committed by his average patient (after self-disclosure) was 250 per year before entering treatment and 50 after. It may well be that the actual difference is much smaller because patients are encouraged to do too much to ensure the survival of their methadone. But it is clear that opiate addicts who receive their drugs legally and for free continue to commit a large number of crimes. In my prison clinics, I see many prisoners who have taken methadone when they have committed the crime for which they are imprisoned. And no one should underestimate the possibility that stimulant use could spread much further and become much more widespread than it is now if restrictions on their use were relaxed.
The importation of mildly stimulant khat is legal in the UK, and much of the Somali refugee community spends their entire lives chewing the leaves containing the stimulant, putting these refugees in far worse poverty than they would otherwise experience. The reason why the khat habit has not spread to the rest of the population is that it takes a whole day to chew disgusting bitter leaves to achieve the relatively mild pharmacological effect. The problem, however, is that once stimulant use becomes culturally acceptable and normal, it can easily become so widespread that it has devastating social effects. And the types of stimulants offered in Western cities – cocaine, crack, amphetamines – are much more attractive than khat. Most illicit drugs are no more harmful than legal substances such as cigarettes and alcohol, and therefore drugs should be treated in the same way as these other substances. However, what is generally presented as a fairly simple process of lifting prohibitionist controls to reap these supposed benefits would actually mean addressing an extremely complex set of regulatory issues. As with most, if not all, goods supplied by individuals and public funds, the main regulatory issues concern the type of medicines legally available, the conditions under which they are supplied and the conditions under which they are consumed (see page 21). Claiming that prohibition, not drugs themselves, is the problem, Nadelmann and many others – even police officers – have declared that "the war on drugs is lost." But demanding a yes or no answer to the question "Is the war on drugs won?" is like demanding a yes or no answer to the question "Have you ever stopped beating your wife?" Never could an unimaginative and fundamentally stupid metaphor have had a more sinister effect on right thinking. Legalization would free up billions of dollars the government is currently spending on police, courts, and corrections to wage the war on drugs, and generate significant tax revenue. The money saved could then be spent on drug education, addiction treatment and enforcement initiatives targeting more serious crimes.
The question of whether Bill Clinton "inhaled" when he tried marijuana as a college student came closest to the drug problem during the last presidential campaign. However, the current one could be very different. For the fourth year in a row, a federally backed national survey of U.S. high school students conducted by the University of Michigan found an increase in drug use. After a decade or more of declining drug use, Republicans are certain to blame President Clinton for the bad news and attack him for failing to maintain the high-profile stance of the Bush and Reagan administrations on drugs. The extent of this problem is less certain, but if the worrying trend of drug use among young people continues, the public debate on how best to address the drug problem will clearly not end with the elections. Indeed, there are already growing fears that the large wave of adolescents – the group most at risk of drugs – that will peak at the turn of the century will be accompanied by a further increase in drug use. One could argue that the freedom to choose between a variety of intoxicating substances is a much greater freedom, and that millions of innocent people enjoy taking stimulants and narcotics. But drug use has the effect of restricting men`s freedom by limiting the range of their interests. This impairs their ability to pursue more important human goals, such as raising a family and performing civic duties. Very often, this adversely affects their ability to work and promotes parasitism. Moreover, far from being expansions of consciousness, most drugs severely limit it.
One of the most striking features of addicts is their intense and prolonged self-centeredness; And their journeys into inner space are usually forays into the inner void. Drug use is the way a lazy man pursues happiness and wisdom, and the shortcut turns out to be the deadliest dead end. We lose remarkably little if we are not allowed to use drugs. Legalization is a process often applied to what are considered victimless crimes by those working towards legalization, an example of which is the use of illegal drugs (see Drug Legalization). For the proposed legalization of drugs to have a much-vaunted positive impact on crime rates, these drugs would have to be both cheap and readily available. Legalizers assume that there is a natural limit to the demand for these drugs and that if their use were legalized, the demand would not increase significantly. These mentally unstable individuals who currently use drugs would continue to do so, eliminating the need to commit crimes, while psychologically more stable people (like you and me and our children) would not be tempted to use drugs by their new legal status and fairness. But price and availability, I do not need to say, have a profound influence on consumption: the cheaper alcohol becomes, for example, the more it is consumed, at least within wide limits. Legalization should be compared to decriminalization, which removes criminal charges from a prosecution, but leaves related laws and regulations intact.
I maintain that a significant number of people in the United States tend to be addicted. Some of them abuse substances, become addicted and deal with them as best they can. The other part, who is prone to addiction, does not experiment with drugs because of drug testing in the workplace or fear of being arrested and not finding a good job in the future.