Critical analysis of prohibitionism and its premises
This is a preview to the chapter Critical analysis of prohibitionism and its premises from the book World War D by Jeffrey Dhywood.
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“Laws do not persuade just because they threaten.”
“If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny. A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.”
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia
“The Greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”
Justice Louis Brandeis, 1928 – engraved on the Capitol Building
We will mostly focus in this chapter on US drug policy, as the US initiated drug prohibition at the beginning of the 20th century and has imposed its own policies on the international community ever since, being the sole drug control superpower. As pointed out by Laurent Laniel in a UNESCO discussion paper, the US is probably the largest producer of social science research on illegal drugs in the world, most of it critical of prohibitionist policies. It is also the source and inspiration for most of the world’s drug policy. Nevertheless, US policymakers have systematically ignored this research, even when it was sponsored by the US government itself. Thus, US drug policy making has been largely immune even to its own policy research and is mostly guided by “conventional wisdom,” which is itself molded by the policymakers in the first place. “Conventional wisdom” describes ideas generally accepted as true although not necessarily based on sound research or factual evidence and is often an obstacle to the acceptance of new information or concepts, sometimes to the point of denial. It is related to the “normalcy bias” and what I will refer to below as “model.”
Let’s start by stating the obvious: the ascension of not one but three illegal drug users in a row to the US presidency constitutes an existential challenge to the prohibitionist regime. The fact that some of the most successful people of our time, be it in business, finances, politics, entertainment or the arts, are current or former substance users is a fundamental refutation of its premises and a stinging rebuttal of its rationale. A criminal law that is broken at least once by 50% of the adult population and that is broken on a regular basis by 20% of the same adult population is a broken law, a fatally flawed law. How can a democratic government justify a law that is consistently broken by a substantial minority of the population? What we are witnessing here is a massive case of civil disobedience not seen since alcohol prohibition in the 1930s in the US. On what basis can a democratic system justify the stigmatization and discrimination of a strong minority of as much as 20% of its population?
We must then ask ourselves why drug prohibition has been such a failure, and even more puzzling, why drug prohibition is still the rule of the land after over 100 years of continued failures. Being a mathematician and a logician, I will put my degree to proper use and venture an explanation based on model theory.
No matter how we look at it, the prohibitionist model doesn’t stand scrutiny, be it from an economic, utilitarian, judicial, logical, moral or constitutional perspective. Still, it endures to this day! The major failures of prohibition have been already exposed all throughout this book.
• The socialization and amplification of costs coupled with privatization of profits to criminal enterprises seal the financial and economic failure of drug prohibition.
• Mass incarceration and massive law enforcement don’t seem to have any effect on drug use and feed a destabilizing organized crime, illustrating the judicial failure of the War on Drugs.
• The global security threat caused by the War on Drugs and the consequent spread of global crime are destabilizing and threatening a growing number of countries around the world.
• The War on Drugs is a public health failure, causing tens of thousands of preventable deaths every year, if not hundreds of thousands worldwide, caused by unsanitary administration practices and the subsequent spread of AIDS and other infectious disease not only within the injecting community, but also to their sexual partners and children.
• The War on Drugs is a human failure, resulting in the incarceration of millions of harmless citizens worldwide, with the attached stigmatization and discrimination, ruining not only the convicts’ lives, but also affecting their spouses and children.
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