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Tuesday, August 14, 2012


 I have decided to get back into the work of doing this blog, which I have not touched since last December. There are two reasons for my silence: 1) I was working on a manuscript I am calling "Gospel Sociology"; and 2) I broke my hip at the end of April and am only now getting free of pain medication, which made it hard for me to write.

I actually wrote the following entry last October.

The Ken Burns special aired in fall 2011 on PBS raises the question: how best can we approach the problem of the use of illegal drugs in our society?

We hear every day of murders and massacres in Mexico, where drug lords are fighting over their turf. We all deplore such violence, and wonder how people can be so uncivilized. Yet it is the market for the drugs in our own United States of America that is fueling this violence. And the market is not all in the poorer neighborhoods of our country.

The documentary noted that the use of hard drink (beyond beer and wine) in the U.S. is one-third of what it was in the mid-1800s. How did that decrease occur? We are learning how to treat alcoholism in more and more effective ways. The picture is not nearly as hopeless as it was fifty or seventy-five years ago. The treatment is expensive, but there are worse ways for us to spend our money. Every recovering alcoholic is a human being newly alive. "The glory of God is the human person fully alive."

Prohibition was seen, the documentary said, as a liberal cause at the time, and was backed by some of the more liberal segments of the population. Alcohol was indeed causing huge social problems, much the same way illegal drugs cause problems among the poor. Whether the use of illegal drugs causes huge problems among our rich is hard to document. Their use does not seem to cause women and children to starve, though it may cause women and children to go on welfare. It probably contributes to violence hidden in families.

More significantly, if a user is rich, he or she can afford the treatment that can free from dependence on such drugs.

So, difference Number One from the 1800s: In the 1800s everyone addicted to alcohol was trapped; today only the poor are trapped.

Should we legalize all drugs?

I have hoped for years that we could get a public discussion going on this question. No one seems willing to begin such a discussion. So I have to lay out the pros and cons myself.

Pro: Legalizing all drugs would immediately drop the price of those drugs. What enables providers to raise the price is the difficulty of providing an illegal product. With the price lowered, it would become much less profitable for people to become providers.

Legalizing all drugs would reduce violence in society. When a transaction is illegal, the only way for providers to keep order is through violence. They cannot use the courts to redress grievances. If you do not pay me for the product, the only course of action I have is to threaten you with violence.

Con: Since legalizing drugs would reduce their price, a lot more people will begin to use them. The problem will escalate out of sight. Huge numbers of people will become addicted that do not now become addicted.

This is a serious obstacle to legalization. We discourage negative behavior by threatening to punish it. Why then should we drop punishment for providing an admittedly terrible product?

This argument ends in stalemate. We need a third approach.

We need to focus on why so many people use these drugs.

The first thing we need is good data on who is using and how much they are using. I made the statement that not all users are poor, but my evidence is anecdotal. Here in Quincy, members of the poor community observe wealthy drivers coming into the poor neighborhood to buy drugs. We do know, according to a news report I recently read, that about a third of U.S. high school students have used marihuana. Not all of those students are poor.

How many people receive treatment for dependence? How many who would like to receive treatment do not get such treatment?

My suggestion: make our Number One national priority the providing of treatment for drug dependence for anyone who seeks it, beginning with men and women now in our prison system. Doing this would reduce recidivism in the prisons, reduce crime in the streets, reduce the market for illegal drugs, which would in turn reduce the profit from providing them from Latin America. This would allow Mexico and other Latin nations to use their resources for more productive purposes than making war on gangs.

Making the treatment of users the main priority would give life to untold numbers of men and women. The glory of God would be more and more people fully alive.