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U.S. Drug Policies Are a Crime Against Humanity

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It is a very unfortunate fact that many otherwise savvy and socially aware Brunonians tend to assume that drug policy is a relatively minor issue in politics. The disturbing truth is that our drug laws, and the institutions that carry out the intent of those laws, constitute nothing less than a campaign of fear, corruption, violence and mind-control -- it is a war after all. With citizens' tax dollars, these massive infrastructures -- which include prisons, police officers, propaganda programs, the military, the Drug Enforcement Administration and so on -- are given the task of stamping out the consumption of drugs.

Yet, for more than 40 years now, the war on drugs has failed in its mission. We are currently in the longest and most destructive war in American history, and yet no one seems to want to talk about it.
For those of you who aren't familiar with our current federal drug policies, the basic idea is pretty simple. The government uses five "schedules" to classify drugs according to three properties -- "potential for abuse," "accepted medical use" and potential to lead to "psychological or physical dependence." Schedule I drugs, for example, are deemed by the DEA and the Food and Drug Administration to have a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical value and a high potential for dependence. This most serious category currently includes drugs like marijuana, LSD, psilocybin and MDMA.

However, concerning the four drugs I just mentioned, legitimate research conducted by third-parties and the government itself has consistently shown this classification system to be utterly spurious. According to a 2010 British study published in the Lancet, these particular substances are actually some of the least harmful of all recreational drugs. Their impact on society and potential for addiction is miniscule compared with alcohol and tobacco -- which, of course, are entirely legal.

On top of that, more evidence confirming the medical benefits of Schedule I drugs surfaces every day. The American College of Physicians recently published a paper (PDF) in which they recommend further research on marijuana for the treatment of nausea, glaucoma, neurological disorders and pain. LSD and psilocybin have proven effective in treating cluster headaches, a condition that affects one in 1,000 people and is so painful it has earned the nickname "suicide headache." Research has also shown that MDMA can effectively treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

The real knife in the back is that this blatantly inaccurate system of classification is the legal justification for the state's use of violence against its own people. According to 2011 statistics, more than half of all federal prisoners are serving sentences for drug-related offenses. This, in addition to the fact that the United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other country and that a disproportionate number of these prisoners are black or Hispanic, provides sufficient grounds for charging the U.S. with crimes against humanity.

Particularly sickening is the fact that this prison-industrial complex is completely subsidized by John Q. Taxpayer. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that state and federal governments spend more than $46 billion a year fighting the war on drugs.

And let's not forget the obvious detail that making drugs illegal doesn't get rid of drugs. Outlawing them simply creates an extremely lucrative black market, since criminal gangs derive the exclusive right to deal. The profitability of selling illegal drugs acts like a magnet that uproots hundreds of thousands of teens from their communities every year and lures them into a life of crime. And the violence created by our drug laws is certainly not entirely contained within our borders. Drug cartels in Latin America, fueled by our guns and our money, have murdered thousands of innocent people and continue to destabilize the region in their quest to supply our demand for illegal drugs.

To solve the problem, our government doles out more of your hard-earned cash in the form of "aid" -- that is, weaponry and combat training -- to these countries, enabling the U.S. to fight a proxy war, thus exporting the externalities created by this thriving industry of violence.

Even if we won this war on drugs, it still demonstrates what hypocrites we really are. Think about it for a second -- what liberty is more fundamental than the right to explore and experiment with one's own consciousness? If, while under the influence of drugs, I steal a car or assault someone, I'm going to be punished for that wrongdoing regardless. What, then, are the grounds for making drug use itself a crime? If the logic is that it's the state's duty to shape the moral conscience and worldview of its citizenry -- well then, hello, 1984.

I want to support President Obama, but as long as he continues to enable these atrocities, he's a coward in my book. And on this issue Republicans really display their talent for doublespeak -- I thought conservatives liked individual freedom, small government and fiscal responsibility? As we listen to criticism of governments like Syria for enacting violent and persecutory campaigns against its own citizens, we ought to pause and reflect on our own crimes against humanity.


Jared Moffat '13 is a philosophy concentrator from Jackson, Miss. He can be contacted at jared_moffat@brown.edu.

This post originally appeared in the Brown Daily Herald.