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Repeal the Criminal Drug Laws: End the War on Drugs
Dear Dr. Shulgin:
What is your opinion on the ambiguity of
the US policy on drugs
(All drugs included, whether pharmaceutical or recreational)? For
instance, the bias that one drug is outlawed while another is
acceptable and available over the counter. Are not all drugs
dangerous if used inappropriately? Do you think the US should
change its policy on drugs? --Vindicator and Sam
Dear Vindicator and Sam:
A few years ago I was asked by a former student of mine if I
would be willing to give an informal talk to the monthly dinner
meeting of the California Association of Criminalists. This was
being held in a classy private dining room in the basement of a
well known San Francisco hotel. I asked her, "What topic would
be wanted?" She said, "Whatever you choose." I asked her what
about something like, "The War on Drugs Must End." She said,
"Sounds fine to me."
So Ann and I found ourselves in the company of some 40 Federal
DEA, State NEA and county forensic law enforcement officers,
enjoying a fabulous dinner which was oddly flavored by my soon-
to-be-realized commitment to deliver what just might be seen as a
controversial address. Ann pretty well knows what I will be
saying and enjoys watching the facial expressions of those in the
I started my presentation with the recalling of a pleasant lunch
I had with Thomas Szasz, the well known psychiatrist/writer, in a
small hotel garden in El Escorial, in Spain. We both had been
invited to teach in a Summer School course there. And, not
surprisingly, our conversation turned to the topic of the War on
Drugs. To my volunteered comment that all drugs should be
legalized, he answered (in his heavy Hungarian accent), "What do
you mean by legalized?" You know, I went on, they should be
decriminalized. He asked me, "What do you mean by
decriminalized? The word you are looking for, is repealed." In
short, don't change the law, or reword the law; rather, get rid
of the law. I extended my after-dinner talk a bit further by
adding that fifty states have fifty Xerox copies of the Federal
Law, so there would be no loss of control.
Actually I believe that the Federal Controlled Substances Act law
is unconstitutional. The tenth amendment of the Constitution
reads as follows: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the
Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the
States respectively, or to the people." And there is no mention of drugs
in the Constitution. The first Federal Drug laws dealt with taxation.
But they quickly evolved into laws of prohibition.
I strongly advocate the repeal of all Federal Drug Laws. The
States then would be free to add this, or remove that, according
to the wishes of its population. Eventually all State laws
prohibiting drugs would, in time, also be repealed. Oh, some
will have to remain -- the giving of drugs to minors , or to
people without their consent, or driving a car while intoxicated.
But the War on Drugs is an abysmal failure and must be retired.
My audience was not too amused! The ending of all drug law
would, in their eyes, dictate the ending of their jobs. I tried
to conclude my address with the up-beat concept that this would
allow them all to exploit their special talents in areas of law
enforcement that directly addressed the world of crime that is so
extensive in this society. I suggested that their skills would
be of special value used in that way. I don't feel that I
convinced very many of them and the concluding applause was
polite but brief.