Last night I listened, as I often do, to “The O’Reilly Factor” on the FOX network. With so much media slanted in one direction, I find it necessary to get an occasional fix of some conservative input to remind myself that I’m not totally insane.
One of the stories that Mr. O’Reilly covered in his introduction was that Attorney General Holder has made an effort to dissemble the minimum sentencing requirements for non-violent drug offenders. He made this statement at a meeting of the American Bar Association.
I heard a portion of his speech earlier in the day and, to be honest, I thought it was the most enlightened thing that the AG had said during his tenure. Mr. O’Reilly felt otherwise.
Bill O’Reilly’s point was that drug dealers are selling poison – true; and that their sales, particularly to minors and others who are not capable of making prudent decisions may result in death – also true. Therefore, he concluded that all drug sales had the potential of resulting in violent consequences and that the Attorney General was totally off base. He also made reference to the recent death of Corey Monteith as an example of the horrible negative effects of drugs.
Bill O’Reilly has a point of view that is internally consistent – generally. Part of his credo is that the individual has the right to make choices, free of government interference. In that respect, I have to question his position on the issue of drug sellers and drug abusers. Mr. Monteith is a case in point. He made a terrible life choice which resulted in his death. But it was his choice to make.
Then there’s the now much-touted case of the thirteen year old youngster in Florida who was savagely beaten by three older teenagers on the school bus. This kid did the right thing by informing school authorities that his assailants were selling drugs on school grounds. The result was that he suffered a terrible beating and a fractured arm.
Should those thugs be punished for their primitive behavior? Of course they should. But they should be tried and punished irrespective of their motivation or their drug-selling activity.
If I had a magic wand, all drugs would instantaneously disappear from the face of the earth. But we know that isn’t reality or a lot of good people would have waved that wand a long time ago.
Anytime there are massive amounts of money involved in selling a product and a consumer demand for it, you can be certain people will make a market in it. Setting aside our personal moral objections to drugs or drug use, we need to acknowledge that. And then we need to find a productive strategy that will minimize their impact on society.
As a kid in New York City I don’t know how many times I read about some junkie holding up and harming an elderly person who was waiting to catch the subway, robbing them so they could get money for their next fix. Some of those episodes resulted in the death of the victim. That isn’t justice for the victims.
To my mind there is only one way to deal with this in a rational way and that is to decriminalize drugs and to dispense them through certified outlets – whether run by government or by a closely-regulated private operation.
Since most of the western world has adopted the American mind set toward drugs, we have few examples to guide us as to how implementing a process of legalization and regulation might work. One country which has experience with this approach is the Netherlands. They implemented their heroin-assisted program in 1998.
Since that time they have found that the number of heroin addicts has increased at a rate slower than the general population growth and that the average increase in the age of users has increased from 27 years of age to 38. In other words, fewer young people are entering the addict population and those who are confirmed users are simply getting older, pulling up the average age.
Although cannabis is legal, using it while operating a vehicle is strictly prohibited and the police routinely give motorists who are involved in a traffic accident a drug test. Failing this test can lead to a minimum three year jail term.
As a conservative I rely on the lessons that history teaches us. If a particular philosophy, no matter how well-motivated, simply doesn’t work, it’s time for all reasonable people to question its usefulness. That is what we learned with respect to alcohol. And with all due respect to Bill O’Reilly, that is what we should be willing to admit about illegal drugs.