With MLB’s announcement yesterday of thirteen player suspensions, once again the issue of illegal drug usage is on our radar screen. It’s not quite three weeks since Cory Monteith died of a self-inflicted heroin overdose. How many others lacking his high profile have died as a result of drug abuse in that same period is unknown as their deaths don’t make the news.
Obviously the PED’s that apparently enjoy widespread usage among professional athletes don’t, as far as we know, have the same potential for killing their users. But as long as they are illegal and the powers that be within baseball wield their considerable authority to censure offenders, they do have a negative effect. They destroy the dreams of millions of kids who look to these athletes as their idols.
It’s interesting to note that, if we continue to regulate which drugs are legal and which are not – in my view an unwise position – that MLB has taken a far more effective approach to dealing with the problem than does our Federal government under the aegis of the DEA. MLB attacked the problem at the consumption level – while the DEA attacks the problem at the production level.
Whether or not you accept my argument that all drugs should be de-criminalized and made available through regulated dispensaries, I believe we can all agree that there is one reason that people manufacture drugs. There is a lot of money in it.
Why do people use them? That is probably a far more complex problem. Why would a thirty-one year old such as Monteith with an established career and a bright future risk that all for a fix? But finding the reason that he or any other drug user engages in his habit is less important than acknowledging that they do.
We found with Prohibition that we cannot eliminate the source (alcohol) simply because we have made it illegal. And we found that despite its illegality, people who wanted a drink found ways to fulfill their desires. Why we do not apply what we should have learned from that lesson to cocaine or heroin or marijuana or any other mind-altering drug is confusing.
We love reading stories about the fact that the latest cartel “El Jefe” has been apprehended – as though that will make any difference at all. Returning to my original thesis that where there is a lot of money involved, there will always be someone willing, if not anxious to step in and replace a fallen “leader”. In fact, many of these former leaders were sent to an early retirement at the hands of their successors.
Pouring money into the sinkhole of trying to eliminate the production of illegal drugs at its source is about as fruitful as trying to empty the Pacific Ocean by using a ladle. After years of conducting the losing “War On Drugs” we should have by now realized that.
The CDC reported that in 2010 there were 37,792 deaths attributable to illegal drug abuse. That compares to 25,440 deaths that were attributable to mis-use of alcohol. Alcohol has been regulated for nearly a century and I suspect has far wider usage than illegal drugs. I would be willing to bet that the number of people who at least occasionally enjoy a hard drink or a beer is five hundred times the number of people who shoot heroin or snort cocaine.
Perhaps that multiplier of five hundred that I pulled out of thin air is far too high. Let’s adjust it down to something that may seem more reasonable to you – ten. But even at that ridiculously low level – it would suggest that we should be seeing well over one quarter million annual deaths due to demon rum. The government’s own statistics say that assumption is false.
Why then do we resist the libertarian concept of decriminalizing drug usage? There are a number of answers to that question.
First, we believe that drug usage leads to drug dependency which leads to ruined lives. That is probably an argument with which I would agree. But isn’t that what happens now? And the fact that these drugs can only be obtained from criminals exposes the user to additional danger than he or she would experience by purchasing these same drugs from a dispensary.
Second, we are protecting our children from becoming drug abusers. That is a laudable goal but is patently untrue. A pusher doesn’t care if you’re at death’s door or twelve years old – as long as you have the money to buy your fix. A dispensary would be able to weed out those who have not attained a majority (and the presumed ability to make an intelligent decision regarding whether they wanted to purchase a drug). And the sad truth is that a lot of our kids are getting their first highs by raiding their parents’ stash of pain killers (which are, of course, legally prescribed drugs).
Third, drugs are “de facto” bad. We should not give the perception of endorsing them by legalizing them. That is simply a value judgment. However, as in the case of alcohol, not everyone shares that opinion. Does a person have the right to impose his values on everyone else? If so, you must be enamored with the present administration.
The benefits of decriminalizing drugs are also several.
First, the street value of the commodity would fall in price. This might be the most effective way of actually putting the cartels out of business. Furthermore, by regulating the distribution through dispensaries we could tax the product and test it for “safety”. Many of those who die from drug overdoses are people who purchased “tainted” products.
Second, the gangs that are now the distributors for drugs and who are responsible for multiple murders every year, would also be put out of business. Of the 31,500 plus murders that were the result of gunshots in 2010, well over half of those were believed to be related to drug transactions and rivalries between two gangs of drug pushers.
Third, we would be able to identify current drug users and develop rehabilitation programs to assist these users which they would have to attend in order to continue receiving their ongoing distributions. Those drug users seldom receive any sort of assistance under our present arrangement.
Those MLB players who received suspensions yesterday were taking those substances in order to improve their value as a negotiable commodity. Once again, money is at the core of their actions. We would be naïve to believe that when players are already making multi-millions of dollars a year that they will not be able to get access to any sorts of drugs they want – PED’s or otherwise.
It’s really long past time that we had a mature debate on our drug policies. For myself, I hope that I never feel so low that I contemplate turning to them for comfort.
If we look at those baseball players and other pro athletes who have turned to drugs to enhance their performance, we should honestly ask ourselves one question. In our demand as consumer/spectators for more thrilling games and better performances, aren’t we fans really the pushers?