Have We Lost The War On Drugs?

The news from the drug warfront isn’t good these days.

By most accounts, our leaders – the politicos we have elected to make sound policy and law judgments to keep us safe and orderly – are failing us. What can we make of the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and soon, Washington state? Are we throwing in the towel? Is this the beginning of a wave of legalization and decriminalization that will eventually wash over onto our side of the border?

If the towel hasn’t been thrown yet, it’s certainly being waved. We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. The legalization movement has been slowly but steadily gaining traction for several years and the dismal failures of public awareness campaigns like the infamous Just Say No crusades haven’t helped. How appropriate then, that the first modern day crack in the code of laws whose primary purpose is to maintain civil order and wellbeing began in the ‘mile high’ city of Denver, capital of Colorado.

There will be much ink spilled about this. New York Times columnist David Brooks, recently characterized the legalization of pot with America’s impending moral decay: “… in healthy societies government subtly encourages the highest pleasures like the arts or enjoying nature and discourages lesser pleasures like being stoned,” he wrote.

The legalization of marijuana is more than a moral or a health dilemma. It’s also about practicality and recent developments bring more questions than answers. Whether or not we subscribe to the belief that pot is a potent and harmful substance or that it’s a gateway to other more lethal drug use we must agree our political leaders will ultimately be liable. The force driving changes in the legalization and decriminalization laws is the argument that it’ll make it harder for underaged people – the age cohort using the most pot today – to access the drug.

If the fire that’s been ignited spreads to more states (New York is now getting in motion) it’ll be hard to put out. Unlike many decades ago, the pot legalization lobbies are proficient, prepared and well-funded. Studies are being touted that the evidence on the harm of pot is inconclusive providing the obfuscation and smoke screen needed to convince us that legalization is the way to go.

One thing that hasn’t been talked about in these latest developments being packaged as good political, economic and public safety sense is the social devastation marijuana use leaves in its wake. We know what the ultimate outcome of this will be – a license to indulge in the lesser pleasure of being stoned to our heart’s content. As long as we pay taxes on it this will make it all okay.

We know what the ensuing lack of self-regulation from this will really be. It’s called addiction.

Tullio Orlando, MSW RSW (Ph.D. Candidate)

Executive Director, CARITAS