Don't do drug legalization

Posted: Oct 03, 2000 12:00 AM
Like everyone else in America, I had never really listened to the arguments of the drug legalization crowd because ... it's not going to happen. These people are like scholars whose area of expertise is an obscure bug in a Third World country. Their theories could be completely insane, but no one cares enough to bother listening to them.

The most superficially appealing argument for drug legalization is that people should be allowed to do what they want with their own bodies, even if it ruins their lives. Except that's not true. Back on Earth, see, we live in a country that will not allow people to live with their own stupid decisions. Ann has to pay for their stupid decisions.

"We" have to "invest" in "our" future by supporting people who freely choose to inject drugs in their own bodies and then become incapable of holding jobs, obtaining housing and taking care of their children. So it's not really quite accurate to say drugs hurt no one but the user, at least until we've repealed the welfare state.

And don't give me the now-we'll-have-to-regulate-fatty-foods slippery slope argument. Precisely because you can see a difference in eating a hamburger and smoking crack means there is a huge difference between the top of the slope and the bottom -- which is why pure slippery slope arguments are always stupid. Let me just ask: Before he serves you, would you prefer that your bus driver or investment banker had consumed a hamburger, a cigarette or marijuana?

In fact, smokers and fatty-food consumers clearly benefit society through their years of tobacco- or hamburger-fueled hard work. They also undoubtedly save the taxpayers money by dying relatively swift deaths from corroded arteries or cancerous lungs. (Junk food and tobacco companies tend not to want to advertise that particular great savings to the Social Security system, but it's true.)

As Joseph Califano has pointed out, even John Stuart Mill said there were some things people could not be permitted to choose to do with their own bodies in a free society: "The principle of freedom cannot require that he should be free not to be free. It is not freedom to be allowed to alienate his freedom." Drugs enslave people.

So do cigarettes and alcohol, the drug legalizers say. Indeed, they fervently claim that alcohol and cigarettes are no better (and probably worse) than marijuana.

As Gary Johnson, governor of New Mexico (and only the most recent Republican to figure out that the path to fawning media coverage is to adopt a dumb liberal idea) puts it (as summarized in a fawning article in The New York Times): "Last year 450,000 people died from smoking cigarettes. Alcohol killed 150,000, and another 100,000 died from legal prescription drugs. How many people died last year from the use of marijuana? Few, if any. From cocaine and heroin? Five thousand."

I'll accept all the drug-legalizers' lying statistics and demonstrate that their arguments are still dumb, but you have to admit that someone who lies in formulating an argument is not to be trusted. And that figure on cigarette deaths is a bald-faced lie.

The 450,000 number refers to all "smoking-related" deaths. A "smoking-related" death is any death that under any circumstances could be connected to smoking, including heart attacks and a plethora of cancers. If an obese 99-year old smoker dies of a heart attack while shoveling snow, his death is listed as a "smoking-related" death.

Indeed, the books are so cooked on the "smoking-related deaths" alleged by the American Cancer Society that a 1993 article in the American Journal of Epidemiology was able to show that by using the exact same methodology, smoking saves 277,621 lives each year. (The methodology also proves that 504,000 people die each year from insufficient exercise, and 649,000 die from improper diets.)

It is known that marijuana smoke is much worse for the respiratory system than is cigarette smoke. The only reason you don't hear about a lot of people dying from marijuana is that -- well, for one, like the guy shoveling snow, a pot-smoker who dies of emphysema goes down as a "smoking-related" death. But also people don't smoke pot like they smoke cigarettes. And one reason for that is: Marijuana is illegal.

Still, let's grant the drug-legalizers their phony statistics. Assume alcohol and cigarettes induce dependency, ruin lives, cause disease, depression, countless traffic injuries and fatalities, and increase the incidence of homicide and suicide. This is supposed to be an argument for legalizing another drug like them?