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by Byron James Bergman
Monday, Jul. 08, 2002 at 1:35 AM
An honest look at the drug problem in America. Not only is the problem drug addiction and the devastating effects addiction has on millions of Americans but a honest look at how we are dealing with it.
The problem with drugs - of which I'm partaking right now because nicotine is flowing through my blood stream.
I was fourteen the first time I tried marijuana. Ironically it was at a weekend church retreat. - To think that church communities are exempt from drug abuse is naive. - The amazing thing about the experience was it made me feel so good. It was like the feeling I got when I scored a touchdown, hit a homer or aced an algebra test. It was also like the feeling when I liked a girl and she liked me back. It's a tingling feeling that made me feel like everything was right and good in the world. The problem with drugs like marijuana is all I had to do was inhale a little smoke to get the same feeling I got from studying hard, playing hard and opening myself up to others. Unfortunately, the feeling, without the doing, is an illusion. It's a tinkering with the chemical balance of the human body that gave me the illusion that I felt better than I actually did.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg of the problem with drugs. Another problem is addiction. Once we discover that taking a drug gives us pleasure we risk establishing a pattern of taking drugs with the pleasure it give us. Once this connection is made addiction becomes a reality. So instead of relying on our body's natural ability to produce the feelings associated with doing our best, which naturally produces pleasure, we fall into the trap of associating pleasure with doing drugs.
To make things even worse we've made drugs like marijuana illegal. Though I can understand the well-intentioned motives behind making drugs illegal unfortunately it has backfired on us in catastrophic ways. What we've overlooked in our attempts to curb drug abuse is the ultimate motive behind doing drugs in the first place. Drugs make us feel better. This is true of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, painkillers, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc cetera… The reason we use drugs in the first place is it makes us feel better. And it's becoming obvious that making drugs illegal does not stopped many of us from using them to help us feel better. But what making some drugs illegal has created is a legislative monster. From the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to our prison systems and police forces across the country we've created a monster that eats up billions of tax dollars every year trying to keep people from essentially feeling better. From a capitalist perspective it's created millions of jobs from federal drug enforcement agents to prison guards and police. According to Marc Mauer, "The Crisis of the African-American Male and the Criminal Justice System," written testimony before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, April 15-16, 1999 (citing data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics)., "an estimated 400,000 people -- almost one-quarter of the total incarcerated population in the U.S. -- are confined in local jails and state and federal prisons on drug charges." Can you imagine how many jobs would be lost if we made drugs like marijuana legal in this country? It's likely our police departments would shrink and so would our prisons. We would need fewer prison guards, fewer police, fewer lawyers and fewer of everything that relies on the industry of drug enforcement in this country. The ripple effect would be felt across the board. It would be an economic blow to law enforcement, our judicial system, new prison construction, etc cetera... The end result would be many people would lose their jobs. We've painted ourselves into a catastrophic corner that costs billions of dollars every year to maintain. And all because we want to stop some people from using drugs to feel better and the often devastating results of drug abuse.
I would like to stop drug abuse too. Drug abuse can and does ruin lives. But the way we are going about it is not working and here's why. By making some drugs illegal we've created the opportunity for crime that goes along with meeting the demand for those who use drugs to make them feel better. The demand is the problem and the demand is not going away. Also, apparently trying to stop the suppliers does not work either. If we make drugs legal and regulate them, like the drugs that are already legal and regulated (i.e. alcohol and nicotine,) drug associated crime goes away, taxes just might go down and unfortunately some people will lose their jobs.
But new job can be created. The biggest job is to educate people on the reality of drugs, the good and the bad. Some will choose to use them and some won't. This is true in our present society because some people abuse drugs now, legal or otherwise, and some don't, why? Because some people understand the down side of drugs and choose not to use them and some people don't understand the downside. Some believe that using drugs makes them feel better. Though true this is not the best way to feel better. Unfortunately they can't see the bigger picture. Those who use drugs to feel better have not found better ways to feel better. The task at hand is to educate people on the best ways to make themselves feel better and trust they will make intelligent informed decisions. This is the reality of truly living in a free society. Living in a free society means having the freedom to do as you choose as long as what you do does not harm others.
Of course some people will choose to use drugs. We know this because millions of people use legal drugs like alcohol and nicotine to make themselves feel better and millions of people die every year because of it. But what is working in the battle over alcohol and nicotine abuse is education and regulation, not punishment of the suppliers for trying to meet the demand of a society's desire to feel better through using drugs. The desire to feel better is the motive here and there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel better. Everyone wants to feel better. How we go about feeling better is the important issue. To punish those who supply one way we go about feeling better doesn't work. To educate people on the reality of drugs and the motive of feeling better behind drugs is a better solution to problem of drug abuse.
Human nature begs us to try those things that those in authority over us don't want us to do. It's the forbidden pleasures we covet the most. Take away the forbidden part and drugs will begin to lose their power over us. Replace punishment with education and we will begin to see the true nature behind the drug problems in our nation. We simple want to feel better.
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