Saturday, March 28, 2009

Unintended Consequences of Legalizing Drugs

Discussions of drug legalization or drug decriminalization have been appearing more frequently in the "mainstream media." There have even been a few glimmers of hope that the federal raids on California medical marijuana establishments would abate, but I doubt this portends any sea change in the War on Drugs. Most of these recent noises are in reaction to events in Mexico and Afghanistan. Yes, more people are realizing that allowing legal markets for drugs will reduce most of the violence and other problems which are the natural result of "black markets." But most advocates of legalization suggest taxing and controlling the market. Going by the government's track record on other legalized "vices," drugs will be no different. But it occurred to me that there is a more ominous possible consequence.

If the war is called off, what happens to the warriors and their weapons? What happens to the extra prison space?

Should we expect these people, who have grown used to having great power, with scant accountability, to hang up their jack boots and find other work?

I honestly can't predict how they will be used, in this world where satire has become impossible. As ridiculous as it seems to us now, could their new purpose be a War on Global Warming, a War on Sharing, A War on Fat, or a War on Guns?

The Drug Warriors are already quite used to sending in SWAT teams, terrorizing people, and killing pets for non-violent crimes, typically with no remorse for collateral casualties or getting the wrong house entirely. They're used to using dubious snitches, economic deprivations which skirt due process, and prosecutorial overzealousness. When they've already lost any respect for the rights and privacy of civilians, why would any of these new "wars" be any less authoritarian and tragic?