Seattle has enough on its plate. With a $9 billion state budget deficit that ‘snuck up’ on Governor Gregoire, a chalk outline around a beloved newspaper and the familiar choir of discord tuning up to toss a welcome wrench or two into the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement plans, our to do list is crammed full. Nevertheless, if former Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper has his way we should be adding radical reform of our drug policy to an already crowded slate of issues.
Although Stamper has long been a proponent of decriminalizing drugs, his position on legalization has recently taken a radical turn into new and radical territory. Where the bulk of those advocating reform and decriminalization draw the line somewhere around legalization of marijuana, the once-shamed top cop of Seattle is now waving the banner for legalizing “all” drugs.
In the March 19th post to his blog at online Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamper writes, “So, in answer to the question, Legalize which drugs? All of them, every last one.”
Stamper’s argument for total legalization does not stand on fatigued arguments of the high cost of prosecuting a war on drugs, nor on civil liberties rationale. No, Stamper argues that the United States should not be letting the bad guys have a monopoly on pushing drugs.
“We either allow the $500 billion illicit global drug industry to monopolize the commerce--and to decide who gets what drugs at what levels of potency and purity and at what price--or we end prohibition. And turn the regulation of currently illegal drugs over to an admittedly imperfect government.”
In a nutshell, Stamper’s contention appears to be that drug industry outsourcing the problem. It is a shame that Stamper’s replacement, Chief Gil Kerlekowski is the one heading to D.C. He could have presented President Obama with a new plan to ‘save or create’ jobs and rescue our floundering economy. For potheads it would offer a whole new meaning to the term ‘green jobs’.
While Stamper makes valid points about saving billions of dollars that are currently spent in drug interdiction operations domestically and abroad - a strong argument to make during our current economic crisis – he glosses over the negative social and economic consequences of making all drugs legal. The same drains on our culture and economy that are now caused by drug use would persist after legalization, for the simple reason that drugs are dangerous with or without regulation. Put succinctly by Joseph A. Califano, Jr., chairman of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, in an article published by the journal of the British Medical Association, “Drugs are not dangerous because they are illegal; they are illegal because they are dangerous.”
Stamper’s attempt to circumvent the notion that there is an inherent and unavoidable menace posed by drugs in any regulatory setting takes the form of proposing tight restrictions and regulations on the people who would be licensed by the government to distribute drugs to users. We have the evidence right in front of us to prove that legalizing drugs with the promise of regulating them neither discourages nor prevents abuse. Prescription medications are being abused on an epidemic scale despite the presence of an existing framework of regulations, licensing and product quality standards as are suggested to be the answer in Stamper’s piece. Is there really any reason to believe that use of heroin or methamphetamine would be easier to control than Oxycodone? Furthermore, there is a thriving black market in this country for such drugs, one that has a criminal element attached to it. Because of the nature of increasing tolerance and the addicts need for more of the drug to get high, there always will exist a network of suppliers eager to feed the habit beyond what the regulators are willing to allow.
Perhaps that is why Stamper’s war on the war on drugs is silent when it comes to suggesting that we could expect to see usage decline if his policies were ever adopted. In this, he has my respect for not singing a siren’s song. Addiction is a complex chain of events that often beset upon people already walking down a dark alley of depression or low self-esteem. Drugs are just the mugger waiting behind the dumpster, and so it seems inevitable that the government in Stamper’s utopia would be in the business of creating and maintaining thousands of addictions.
Even more disturbing than the idea of the government assuming the role of dealer, is the possibility of Uncle Sam being a pusher. Part of Stamper’s sales pitch is taxation and with taxation comes institutionalized dependency on those revenue sources. The dysfunction of the way our government operates will have come full circle when the addiction to tax money is connected directly with the addiction to drugs.
Even if the government could resist the temptation to perpetuate a drug market to put funds in the public coffer, it would still be in the business of violating a code that doctors live under and which should be adopted as the Twenty-eighth Amendment to the U.S Constitution: “Do no harm.”
According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s 2004 report on the economic costs of drug abuse in the United States, the costs in terms of health care and lost productivity resulting from drug abuse was more than $180 billion in 2002. It would be foolish to expect those costs to disappear due to legalization. It might be wiser to assume their increase.
The reasons for and against legalization often seem more like constructs that are used to defend purely moral arguments in which the rules of evidence and debate do not suffice. In this way, Stamper’s proposal seems to suggest an amoral approach toward drugs at best, or an embrace of their effects at worst. As a society we have, by and large, recognized that drugs an intrinsically destructive force. For now, I am confident that moral clarity will be enough to halt efforts like Stamper’s in their tracks.
By Bryan Myrick
Seattle Conservative Examiner
March 21, 2009