Saturday, August 27, 2005

Quick: Define 'Untenable'.

The only 'drugs' in which I indulge are alcohol and caffeine, the latter only on occasion. But I firmly oppose the government's War on Drugs, mainly because of the severely logic-impaired arguments drug war proponents insist on advancing. Two very recent examples come from NYT columnist John Tierney and the Rocky Mountain News (via Amygdala). Tierney's column starts off talking about federal efforts to stonewall scientific marijuana use, and then segues into a more general vignette-fueled attack against the government's anti-pot prejudices. The DEA, it seems, is not above prosecuting well-respected scientists and dying cancer patients who use pot outside the agency's extremely narrow official strictures. The familiar "gateway drug" justification has been exposed as a canard, but even if it was valid, it wouldn't apply to medical or scientific cases anyway.

The RMN story covers a Denver ballot initiative scheduled for November that would legalize adult use of small amounts of marijuana. Even if it passes, users could still be held culpable under state and federal law. But the following quote really drives home the drug warriors' deep-rooted anti-intellectualist streak:

"This initiative shouldn't even be here at the local level," said Councilman Michael Hancock, one of the measure's most vocal critics. "I've seen the devastating effects of drugs in our urban city.

"I have no tolerance for these kinds of discussions. It has no place in the public dialogue."

Two rhetorical elements jump out at me here. We'll start with the second one: drug policy debates have "no place in the public dialogue?" The way "let's take out Chavez" has no place in the public dialogue? There's a pretty big difference between saying you don't agree with a proposed idea and saying you don't think it should be discussed at all. I think the value of gay civil unions, for example, is abundantly clear already, but if others disagree, let each side try to recruit majorities to their respective stances through discussion. This nation is still a nominal democracy, after all.

It's also noteworthy that our stalwart drug warrior knows well "the devastating effects of drugs in our urban city." In accepting the government's conceptual frame of "drugs" as a monolithic catch-all category, he's blinded himself to crucial typological distinctions that could save millions in public money and wasted effort, not to mention countless lives and livelihoods. For Councilman Hancock, there is no issue to debate: drugs are bad. Period. This triumph of dogma over empiricism may help anti-drug advocates sleep at night, but Tierney's column lays bare its fatal flaws.