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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

An End to Prohibition-

Around 1917 the U.S. government established some comprehensive regulations regarding the possession, use and access to drugs. Bodies such as The Women's Christian Temperance Union reacted to abuses of drugs and alcohol, gained influence, and the net result was a ban on the recreational use of drugs. In effect, the government was acting to protect citizens from themselves and their own choices.

Subsequent to this regulation was a ban on the manufacture, use and possession of alcohol. Again, influenced by such bodies as the temperance movement, this was government acting to protect people from their own choices by eliminating those choices and criminalizing certain behaviors.

A consequence of this regulation and restriction of individual choices was the rapid expansion of criminal forces to take advantage of a demand without a supply. Criminal suppliers of drugs and alcohol became wealthy, and the battle for that wealth was increasingly violent.

The regulation of drugs was separate from the ban on alcohol. When the overall cost of the ban on alcohol became too great, the public accepted a return to a moderately regulated system through which alcohol might be made, sold, and possessed for consumption. The regulation and restriction on drugs continued, and the general ban on recreational use of drugs has continued to this day.

For a time the illegal use of drugs continued to fuel a criminal economy which was content to remain in the background. Good people simply did not go to the side of town where drugs were sold and used, and the violence of that drug culture was largely ignored.

In the decade of the 1960's the use of drugs expanded from these dark realms. College campuses became another place where drug use was common, and a "rebellious" youth bent on exploring all aspects of life brought those drugs and their purveyors into environments previously unsullied by such "filth."

This was certainly not a problem for the criminal communities. Expanding their markets was quite appealing. Eventually even some of the rich and powerful were at least sometimes users. The taint of drug use colored entertainment, politics, and even the best of families. The fingers of the criminal organizations reached high and deep.

We are fast approaching the centennial of this failed effort to control the choices of citizens with regard to recreational drug use. The cost of enforcing these laws has become a huge burden on the society at large. Much of the enormous cost of incarcerating so many offenders is directly related to the illegal drug industry. Meanwhile, drug cartels have become so wealthy and powerful that they have camped literally on the borders of the United States, even taking control of entire towns in Northern Mexico.

Unless the U.S. government is willing to fight a real war on drugs, with real guns and bullets and death for multitudes, the only reasonable choice is legalization and a moderated system of regulation.

Consider the consequences. Drug cartels will immediately lose their vast wealth, and the motivation to continue in the drug market. Drugs will be regulated regarding mode of distribution and with regard to quality. The price of drugs will come down from the astronomical rates required by criminal distributors, and very few drug users will be compelled to steal or sell their bodies to secure this much more affordable substance.

The savings in enforcement cost and incarceration expenses can be applied to other services, to include expanded drug and alcohol awareness education. The choice as to whether or not use drugs would be returned to the individual, and the individual would not become a criminal for choosing to use drugs or alcohol.

Granted, there exists the possibility of some people who refrained from drug use due to the criminal aspect going ahead and now choosing to use drugs. There exists the possibility of an increase in antisocial behavior in some places at some times due to the reduced regulation and increased access. The degree is unknown, and predictions will remain speculations until the case is tested through a well planned and executed legalization of drugs.

I propose that the money saved in enforcing a failed drug management policy could be better spent in education and providing services to overcome such slight bumps in the road as I mentioned above. The legalization and reduced regulation is not a perfect answer to the problem. Indeed, the problem may be so deep seated in humans as humans that it cannot be fully overcome, by regulation or anything else created by human beings.

Even so, the present system enriches criminals, costs a great deal in a multitude of resources including human lives, and has accomplished little in the hundred years of regulation. Perhaps it is time to try something else. Something radical. Something that returns the dignity of choice to the individual regarding their own lives.

A Comedy of Errors, with lots of smoke...

I was sleeping in my van, out in the yard. Why I was sleeping in my van out in the yard is another story. As I said, I was sleeping. A knocking awoke me. I waited. Lot's of things might knock in the night. The knocking came again.

"Who is there?" I asked.


"What's up?" I asked. It had to be late, and my son Jon had no night knocking proclivities of which I was aware.

"Mom asked me to tell you the house is on fire."

I lay there a moment.

"Is the house on fire?" I asked.

"It was. Everyone is outside while the smoke clears."

I decided I needed to get up. I did so, and wandered to the front porch where the whole family was gathered.

To tell the rest of the story, we need to go back to early evening. I sat at my computer, and my wife Linda sat at hers. There was a bang outside, and the lights went out. Our computers were both on battery back up systems, so we started to shut them down as family members found each other in the dark. Flashlights came on, a few candles were lit. Soon the computers were shut down, along with the modem and the wifi router.

That part about the modem and router will prove important, later.

Beth, my daughter, had started boiling water for spaghetti. I went and got the camp stove from the shed, and set it up on the stove top. It is one of those electric glass top stoves. The rest of the kitchen was in disorder, as we were in the middle of renovations and the counter tops were covered with construction materials and dirty dishes. The stove top seemed a good place to set up the camp stove.

It was not.

We got the water boiling, cooked the noodles, got everybody fed. With the power out, there was little to do, and so everyone made their way to bed. As I noted before, I was using the van as a bedroom, and that is where I went.

Now, back to the front porch. It's about two in the morning, the power is back on, and everyone is on the porch. Here is how the events were related to me.

Linda awoke when the lights came back on. She started her computer, but could not get on the Internet. As I related, the modem and router were on another power line, and the back up supply was still turned off. Linda was not familiar with how this was set up, and not being able to connect she headed for the bathroom.

As she made her way down the hall, she observed billowing clouds of smoke up in the vaulted ceiling of the living room. She rushed to the kitchen, to find the camp stove burning on the stove top. None of us had made sure that the power switch for the electric burner was turned off. With all of the finding people in the dark and setting up camp, it had simply been overlooked.

Finding that she could not blow the fire out like a birthday candle, she ran back and awoke my son-in-law Dave. Beth awoke as well. Dave went to the kitchen to try and smother the fire. Beth remembered the fire extinguisher, which she located and applied. By this time the house was full of smoke.

I am sure I am missing some of the details. I was sleeping in my van at the time. Anyway, everyone was awakened and moved out of the house as windows were thrown open and fans started and the elimination of smoke begun. Then Jon was dispatched to awaken his father, who was sleeping in the van.

That's me, by the way.

What had burned on the camp stove were two plastic feet. The ones sitting on the burner that had not been turned off, but we did not know that because the power was out. Fortunately, nothing else had become involved. Had my wife been able to connect to the Internet, she would not have made the discovery when she did. The house may have become involved in the fire, and things would have become very unpleasant.

Linda declares Divine Providence. I do, as well, but I also think we were lucky. I am convinced that God has incorporated an element of luck in the whole Providence thing, just to make things interesting.

So, what have we learned, Dorothy? I don't think I will use the stove top as a counter space from now on. That was dumb. Also, in the event of a power outage I think I will be checking the status of stoves and other things that may cause a fire. Finding and accounting for everyone in the confusion caused this critical oversight. That cannot be allowed to happen again.

It was quite possible that I would have awakened to find most of my family gone, literally up in smoke. I am very thankful that such was not the case. I am rather fond of them, and they still seem willing to put up with me after all of these years. Even if I insist in sleeping in a van.

Why was I sleeping in the van? That will have to be another story.