A sixteen year old is caught with marijuana on school property. Thanks to many “No Tolerance” policies, he will an minimum be suspended from school, away from the educational resources he is guaranteed access to by law. At worst, depending on the exact circumstances, he could face jail time. Now think this through a minute. At best, you taking a normal kid who’s experimenting and isolating him from his normal environment. At worst, you’re taking a severely troubled kid and exposing him to a criminal environment. To me this does not bode well for the bright futures of those youths. Now as it happens I thing that the dangerous of drug use are over represented(and mis-categorized). I also thing that the government has no business regulating self-inflicted harm. Those are topics for other essays, however. For this essay, I grant the assumptions that drug use is wrong and the society ought to do something about it. But, even with those assumptions, I fail to see how anyone can the current methodology as right, just or rational.
All across America, school districts, work places, and government agencies are waking up and realizing “Gee, there’s a drug problem here.” Never mind that the drug problem has existed for some time; Never mind that the drug problem never collapsed these institutions; SOMETHING MUST BE DONE NOW. Swift and decisive action must be taken to show the public how effective we are. Action is certainly called for, but which action? Should we try and treat the users, making them productive citizens of society? Shall we identify and work to eradicate the underlying social factor which cause drug use? Shall we promote safe alternatives? No. We shall declare war on drugs. We shall take billions and billions of dollars which could be spent improving society as a whole and we shall appoint drug czars and blow anti-drug laws ridiculously out of portion. We shall by declaring this war, declare war on our own citizens, those we are supposed to protect. We shall treat them, not as people who need our help, but as we treat thieves, rapists, and murders. We shall rid our schools and other places of this cancer so that they may appear in our bulletins as drug free. They are our problem no more.
What’s really wrong with the War on Drugs? In a republic state, the purpose of war is supposed to be defensive. That is war should only occur to defend its people or the people of its allies from a tangible threat. A government can only declare war on its own people when those people present a clear and present danger to others of its people. Drugs are not guns. The users of drugs are not holding Americans hostage. The problem with the war on drugs isn’t that we’re attacking our own people, or that we’re using it as a issue to diminish our rights and militarize our police forces. The problem is: it does not work. We’re attacking a symptom, not a cause. Even if we succeed in removing drugs from the face of this nation(a truly impossible task), the real issues, the things which lead to the drug use will remain. Perhaps some of what are perceived to be symptoms of drugs are, in fact, symptoms of the way we treat drug users.
It seems that no one has stopped to consider that many of the problems that stem from drug use don’t actually begin there. Instead, they begin with the way, we, as a society, treat drug users. Consider the so called Gateway Effect: the idea that relatively harmless drugs like marijuana lead to the user of harder drugs like heroin. Some of the cause may in fact be behavior, but I think the environmental effect are underrated. If we force all drug users to hide together and we jail the light users with the heavy, the progression due to such exposure should seem obvious. What if our message to the light offenders, not the dealers, not thugs paid in drugs, but to simple users was not “we coming to get you”, but we want to help you. What if the goal was not to punish, but to rehabilitate? If the users are not swayed by the clear evidence of definite physical harm, then they are unlikely to be dissuaded by possible legal ramifications. The current drug policy does nothing to fix the drug problem, only to further exacerbate it.
No you might be thinking “ I don’t use drugs, what do I care what they do to the drug users?” One of the measurable and often unnoticed effects when they is a public outcry for the government to deal with a problem(drugs, terrorism etc) is that the government seems to find the erosion of civil rights an acceptable tactic. A drug test is a search and as such should fall under the protections granted us by the 4th amendment. A growing trend is to require consent for such searches as prerequisites for positions in extracurricular activities, jobs, etc. It is not real consent if it is made a requirement of the position. The intent of allowing consent under the fourth amendment is to allow innocent people to definitively prove their innocence. That does not happen here. Imagine a community, which, to forestall crime, made it a condition of moving it that officers be allowed to search any residence at any time. The outcry would be tremendous. Yet, that is exactly what happens here. Such requirements to waive rights are no better than physical coercion and should be viewed as such. If the drug use is not visibly affecting performance(if it were there would be probable cause for a test), than what drugs an employee may or may not use is not of a companies business. If you must declare drug use an intolerable threat to society, at least do it right. Do not go on a crusade backed by a bunch of moralistic rhetoric. Do not violate the rights we supposedly hold dear. Do not relegate the users to the status of the lowest villains. Instead, let’s work to educate and reform outside. Let’s not see them as waste to be excreted, but as raw material to be absorbed for fortification.