The government spends an acknowledged ton of money arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating drugs users. That's easy to say. What's hard to say is how to find an alternative.
The reality is that drugs, of any kind, are a hard taskmaster. Long experience has led to this conclusion. Continued use is more attractive for most — instead of treatment.
It also is clear that drug use is harmful. Cocaine and heroin can be lethal. Marijuana, while not as immediately critical, has been shown in a long-term study in Australia, to be detrimental to one's IQ if use starts in the teen years, as it often does.
What should we do with drug users? Force them to pay for their own treatment? Some are impoverished. We are steadily increasingly regulating other behaviors that concern your health. It will shortly be legal to bill smokers more for their insurance. There has been a raft of anti-smoking legislation. Likewise, we now move into a world where large soft drinks are regulated in some places. They day may come when a joint is legal, but a cupcake is not.
Laws against drinking and driving have been steadily toughened over the years. Does one legalize some drugs, but penalize those who lose their judgment while using?
To be sure, there are many holes in drug policy. It makes no sense to have "drug-free" zones around schools. Should a child be more protected from pushers in school than he is at home? They are every bit as much a failure as "gun-free" zones are.
Likewise, the world of abuse changes. Penalties have to appropriately fit the crime. Some may be too high. Some not high enough. This is a case for an intelligent scalpel, not a simple meat cleaver. Subtle changes may work best. Tobacco is being regulated through a combination of hefty taxes and severe restrictions on its use. Is that the future for marijuana? Maybe.
A government that helps pay for your treatment will have a vested interest in trying to keep you healthy and paying taxes. Part of that may always involve arresting those who sell, and those who use. There is a cost for incarcerating those who use. There will also be a medical cost for not incarcerating them. Perhaps not as much, but we would be wary of those who expect large savings.
Drug treatment will not be free. A lifetime of drug use is no bargain either.
A Guest Editorial