Former Prosecutor. Powerful Defense Advocate. Certified in the Area of Criminal Law

Ending the War on Drug Users

Americans, and I count myself proudly among this group, love a good fight. From the (fictionalized) speech of General George S. Patton (which you can view here: to the (also fiction) blockbuster spectaculars of Professional Wrestling and the slightly less fictional gladiatorial combat of Mixed Martial Arts. Our first impulse when we see a problem is to spinkick it through a plate glass wall. Sadly, this does not always lead to a good result.

Someone wiser than me once came up with a great saying; "When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." Unfortunately, every problem isn't a nail, and if you go around hitting things (or people) with hammers, you are bound to make most situations worse. A hammer is a specific tool, for a specific problem. It must be used sparingly, and only when appropriate. Or else things get broken.

The Police are a hammer. Prison is a hammer. These are the "forces" that society uses to try to convince people that violating the law is a bad idea. Do we need these hammers? Yes we do. People who go around robbing and stealing, and raping, and murdering need to be punished to discourage that sort of thing, and more importantly, they need to be kept away from the rest of us for our collective safety.

No one benefits, however, when a drug addict gets hammered (pun intended). American Drug Laws represent the leading example of one of the worst ideas ever to occur to our government (and that is saying a lot): That terribly foolish idea is that the criminal laws can be a tool to protect a man from himself.

Why do we have Drug Laws?

We have drug laws because one group of people decided that they should be able to imprison another group of people if they consume substances that are bad for them.

Why did they decide that? To protect potential drug users. Presumably, most people don't want to be sent to jail, so if we say doing something will get them sent to jail, most people won't do it. Brilliant right?

No. The first problem is that society has no right to protect you from yourself. This must be a foundational belief for any freedom loving person. The purpose of government is to create order wherein we are all, as free citizens, protected from each other. Once this has been achieved society as a whole loses its hold on the free individual (that is what makes him a FREE individual). Much more could be written about this, but I will move on because the next point is even more complicated.

The second problem is that many people will try narcotics despite the fact that they are illegal. Many of those people (not all of them, not even most of them, but many of them) will become drug addicts.

What then? Do we accept the defect in our approach and legalize narcotics when we are, inevitably faced with drug addicts whose addiction compels them to repeatedly break the law? Apparently not. Apparently, we DOUBLE DOWN on our first mistake and try to make the Criminal Law a tool for dealing with addiction. Please consider, for a moment, the awesome arrogance involved in that idea. We are talking about a group of people whose illegal drug use will lead them to lose their job, their friends, their children, their appearance, their health, their dignity, THEIR LIVES... and we really think they are going to stop because we wave a Penal Code at them and threaten to put them in jail!?! Who the hell do we think we are?

So Drug Prohibition is bound, not by error in execution; but by error in design, to produce a revolving door of criminals coming into and out of police custody. They are labeled as bad people because they have criminal records. No one feels compassion for criminals, so society feels no great need to put any resources towards the actual treatment of addiction, and we haven't. Literally millions of dollars are pissed away enforcing drug laws every year. We could build Universities with the money wasted on this war on drug users, and if we put ONE PERCENT of the money we saved towards treatment for drug addiction, we would be light years ahead of where we are today.

The above would, by itself, be sufficient reason to scrap drug prohibition, but there is much more evil that we have yet to discuss.

• Drug Prohibition is singularly responsible for Gang Violence in America.

• This is not an exaggeration. In exactly the same way that Alcohol Prohibition brought about Al Capone and his ilk, Drug Prohibition has created the Crips, the Bloods, the Nortenos, the Surenos, and every other teen death squad shooting up the streets today. The issue is supply and demand. There is a demand for drugs. Making them illegal clearly does not end that demand. Let me repeat that, because it is important. Making Drugs illegal clearly has not ended the demand for them.[1] Because legitimate businesses cannot step up to safely and efficiently meet that demand, illegal enterprise will rise to fill the vacuum. So groups like the Crips and the Bloods, like the Nortenos and Surenos, groups who would be little nothing groups otherwise, all of a sudden are flooded with money. Unfortunately, Illegal enterprise does not operate under the same constraints as legitimate business. Most notably illegal enterprise does not compete by means of price wars and advertising. THEY JUST KILL THE COMPETITION. So that flood of money gets used to buy guns to fuel a never-ending urban war.

• Get this straight, and do not forget it: All gang warfare is about territory, and all territory disputes are about drug sales. Period.

• Drug Prohibition creates artificial scarcity raising the price of narcotics.

• At first glance this doesn't seem like such a bad thing. What do you care whether a hit of meth costs five dollars or twenty dollars? The reason you should care is because one of the supposed evils that Drug Prohibition is supposed to be trying to fix, is people stealing to support their habit.

• You ever hear about an alcoholic breaking into cars to support HIS habit? No you haven't, because beer is cheap. The only reason anyone is committing crimes to pay for drugs is because the cost of those drugs is artificially high... because they are illegal.

• Drug Prohibition leads to animosity towards law enforcement.

• The horrible consequences stated above, of the failed war on drug users, would, again, be more than enough to rationally conclude that this failed policy should be shoveled into the dustbin of history. Nothing compares in pure raw damage, however, to the societal cost resulting from drug prohibition that comes from the inevitable contempt it breeds towards law enforcement.

• Why is this? The answer is simple. All laws are enforced by men with guns. If you have any doubt about this I suggest a simple experiment. Refuse to pay your taxes. When the inevitable inquiry from the IRS comes, ignore it. When you are summoned to Federal Court, refuse to go. I guarantee that sooner or later, men with guns will come to your home, violently place hands on you, and drag you off to a cage where you will be held against your will until society decides what to do with you. If you resist you will be beaten. If you resist with a weapon, you will be killed. It is as simple as that. All laws are enforced by men with guns.

• You have a whole army of guns pointed at your right now, whether you see them or not. The men holding those guns are ordering you to pay your taxes, to not steal, to not assault, and to obey the speed limit. We accept this. We accept this because we know that breaking those laws are bad, and we accept that force is justified against those people who fail to conform in the name of public safety and security. It is a necessary evil.

• People of good moral character, who happen to disagree with the paternalistic despotism inherent in banning them from consuming whatever they see fit, will inevitably break this law however, and just as inevitable some of them will come into violent conflict with the aforementioned men with guns.

• We should and do have a justifiable contempt for those who use force to uphold unjust laws. To make matters worse there is a whole segment of society where this IS THE ONLY interaction they have with law enforcement.

• Cops come to their schools with drug dogs to violate their right to privacy.

• Cops "stop and frisk" them on the street looking for illegal drugs to confiscate (the police will lie and claim they are looking for weapons because their lawyers have coached them to lie).

• Cops will lie. They will lie about getting permission to search, the scope of their search and the results of their search (yes, the Rampart division of the Los Angeles Police Department was proven to have repeatedly planted illegal drugs on suspects.)

• Law enforcement cannot enforce unjust laws without inheriting fear and contempt from those who recognize the injustice. It is quite simply impossible to be a "good cop" when you are compelled to enforce bad laws. Either you become a "bad cop" because you violate the rights of your fellow man ((for which you deserve the contempt of your fellows)) or you refuse to

• Many of these people simply learn to regard law enforcement as the enemy. For my whole career I have heard police engage in the self-delusion that the only reason that people refuse to cooperate with them is that they fear retaliation from criminals. While there is some truth to that, there is also a sizeable portion of the population (particularly in high crime areas) who simply DON'T LIKE COPS. And one of the reasons that they don't like cops is that they see cops violently enforcing unjust laws and bringing pain and suffering upon people who aren't committing any moral wrongdoing. (Another reason is the rampant abuse of authority by police officers in the United States, but will save that discussion for another day).

The war against drug users thus poisons everything it touches, and it gains us nothing. I very much look forward to the day when enough citizens have seen enough bloodshed, and pain, to demand that we stop this madness. Until then, I am committed to doing as much damage as I can, as a Criminal Defense Attorney within the system itself, to the enforcement and application of these laws.

I implore all of men and women of good faith to fight these laws in any way you can as well. Certainly you should elect and re-elect individuals who will eventually change the law, and certainly you should vote for legalization of narcotics (marijuana being the first step) in your state.

• But I urge you to go further. Refuse to cooperate with the police when they try to enforce unjust laws. Serve on juries where prosecutors are trying to cage innocent men and women for actions that shouldn't be crimes, and REFUSE TO CONVICT. Our Nation has an honorable history of civil disobedience to unjust laws that we should become the modern day flagbearers of.

We are a free people, and we should very well act like it.

A final word on the term "War on Drugs." Some people may notice that nowhere above do I use the term "War on drugs." There is a reason for this. Law enforcement began using that term in 1971 when it was unleashed on the world by then President Nixon. The problem with the term is that you cannot have a war on a thing. Wars are fought between men, and in this case the war (more of a slaughter really) is being fought between law enforcement and drug users. So really what we have; if we are going, to be honest with ourselves, is a war against drug users. This really brings the discussion full circle. If you will recall, the whole justification for drug laws in the first place was to protect those people who would tempted into unhealthy drug use. What our failed policies have instead wrought is a WAR against those very people. That is law enforcement in action, using its hammer for all its worth on a problem that has never been, and will never be, as simple as a nail.

[1] This removes our original justification for making the drugs illegal altogether, doesn't it... Yes, it does.