Editorial: The Arrogance of Stupidity
As regular readers of this column are aware, I'm a legalizer, and I'm sure about it. I am absolutely convinced that on all counts prohibition does far more harm than good, and that the evidence for this is overwhelming.
For example, I consider the effects of sending hundreds of billions of dollars per year into the criminal underground -- only one of prohibition's many adverse consequences -- to be so serious in its impact on crime and violence and corruption as to be unfathomable. I cannot imagine how any realistically conceivable increase in drug use following legalization -- a hypothetical -- could come close in the harm it might cause to rivaling the incredible, well-demonstrated damage done today by just that one aspect of prohibition. Even if prohibition didn't make the drugs more dangerous themselves (which it does), I just couldn't see that happening. Not surprisingly, since I founded an organization devoted to working for legalization.
Still, I'm not so arrogant as to deny the possibility that people who oppose legalization might have legitimate reasons for holding the views that they hold. Not for marijuana -- support for marijuana prohibition is a truly bizarre aspect of our modern society, one that I believe will ultimately be viewed as such. But some of the other drugs that are illegal now do pose serious dangers for some of their users. Not for most of their users, despite popular belief; and the dangers have been greatly increased beyond what they would otherwise be by the conditions that prohibition has created. But there's enough potential danger connected with drugs like cocaine or heroin for the impulse to prohibit them to be understandable -- misjudged, in my opinion, but understandable -- it's not completely strange that many people agree with prohibition of those drugs, even though I think they're quite wrong.
Those of us who see things this way are in pretty good company -- there are legislators, judges, doctors, editorial columnists, former Cabinet members, even some heads of state, counted within our set of strong and fervent allies. In Britain over the past couple of weeks the set has grown larger. Richard Brunstrom, Chief Constable of North Wales, called drug prohibition "immoral" and recommended legalization in a report he submitted to the national "Home Office." His police force has backed him up on it. And this week the former prison chief added his voice to the supportive mix as well.
They are by no means the first Brits to say these things. For example, the current head of the Conservative Party in the UK, David Cameron, is a legalizer, as was the late Mo Mowlam, Britain's "drug czar" equivalent in her time. The UK-based Economist magazine, a widely-read global publication, used to opine for legalization almost non-stop, and still sometimes does so. So to reads the words of Brunstrom's opposition, the country's Association of Chief Police Officers, I have to wonder at the arrogance; ACPO president Ken Jones released a statement calling legalization "arguably a counsel of despair."
Despair? Really? Despite all the extremely smart people in the country who've expressed pro-legalization viewpoints to date, who have explained why they see it making things better, not worse? I completely recognize ACPO's right to take a prohibitionist position, and despite my views I'm not one to say that it automatically makes them unreasonable. But Jones' particular choice of words make me think he is either not familiar with the ins and outs of the issue, nor of the well known support that exists for legalization, or that he is unwilling to acknowledge them.
On this side of the ocean, upstate New York saw some similar illogic emanate from drug warriors in a District Attorney race. After the Democratic candidate, Jonathan Sennett, called for marijuana decriminalization -- not even legalization, just decriminalization, of marijuana no less, he said it's no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco -- his two opponents attacked him on it. One of them, a former Manhattan prosecutor named Vincent Bradley, actually said it was "inappropriate" for a DA to say that marijuana is no more dangerous than tobacco.
Well actually, if one judges by the mortality data, tobacco is enormously more dangerous than marijuana. Not that tobacco should be illegal either, of course. But the facts about what the two substances do are the facts about them, and acknowledging them is not irresponsible. I've already explained what I think about marijuana prohibition, and there are a number of blue-ribbon commissions whose findings back me up. So I think that Bradley's and Jones' comments are a clear-cut case of the arrogance of stupidity. Not because I disagree with them, but because they have taken their positions so arrogantly in the face of many impressive people who completely disagree with them.
We in the anti-prohibition movement can take a few insults. Indeed, the more of them get thrown our way, the more successful we know we are growing. Don't be too confident, Ken Jones, more Britons have heard of Richard Brunstrom now than have heard of you; and don't be too confident about your drug strategy, Vince Bradley. Our message is getting out, and it beats your message, hands down.