Drug laws infringe on basic rights

John Stuart Mill wrote on the subject of liberty more than 100 years ago, in 1859, when it was an ideal that people around the world were striving to create in their countries. In the 19th century, governments around the world, mostly monarchies where rulers assumed absolute control through “divine right,” had toppled. There was unrest throughout the world, and even in the United States, the country founded on liberty, there was political unrest as the North and South rushed toward civil war over the question of slavery.
Mill wrote an essay entitled “On Liberty” to try to describe what this new concept of liberty meant to and for governments. He said of liberty: “That the only purpose for which power can rightly be exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others … The only conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”
I find that this view is at the very heart of the drug debate in America today. Our country was founded on the belief that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” as Thomas Jefferson wrote to the government of England, declaring America’s independence. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; sounds good, but is it really practiced in 1996 in America?
The war on drugs has been attacked and defended on many standpoints: health, the economy and morality. Everyone has a reason why drugs should or shouldn’t be illegal.
But what about our rights? What about our liberty, that great ideal on which our country was founded? If a man chooses to use a narcotic substance in his own home, is that really something that the government has a right to control? If the man was driving a school bus of children on their third-grade field trip, then naturally he should not be under the influence of mind-altering substances, just like he should not be drinking alcohol. But if he is out on his own time and causing harm to no other individual, why does the government feel that it can tell him what to do? He can drink or take any narcotics prescribed to him by a doctor. Why can he not smoke a joint to ease his backache?
The American government is not an all-powerful institution with divine right. It is a form of government that vests power in the people and is limited by the Constitution. The people are not limited: the government is. The government began its war on drugs in 1875 in San Francisco by attacking opium. In reality, this was an attack on Asian immigrants. This attack continued until 1937 and the Marijuana Tax Act, which outlawed almost all drugs that we now consider illegal. Most of these drug laws were passed for financial or personal reasons rather than moral ones. Even the American Medical Association was against the outlaw of marijuana in 1937, and the government was overstepping its boundaries in controlling the private lives of citizens. Few people argued, however, and those who did were simply labeled addicts and pitied for their weakness.
I say enough. It is time to remind the American government that we do not answer to it, but that ultimately the reverse is true: It answers to us. The drug laws are outdated and, for the most part, ineffectual. It is time to reassert the people’s control over their lives without interference from the government. It is time to end the propaganda against substances that the government for whatever reason does not like.
It is time to look at the facts. According to a 1995 study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in an average year in America:
ù Tobacco kills 390,000 people
ù Alcohol kills 80,000 people
ù Cocaine kills 2,200 people
ù Heroin kills 200 people
ù Aspirin kills 2,000 people
ù Marijuana kills 0 people
Drugs should be legal. At the very least, the drug laws need to be rewritten, if for no other reason than it is every American’s right to do what they wish with their lives. If they wish to become a heroin addict, that is their right. If they don’t, they won’t. Making drugs legal would not cause more addicts; was alcoholism defeated by prohibition? No, but crime was increased as a result, and gangsters became powerful. People like Al Capone ran the streets and there was nothing that the police or government could do about it. There was simply too much power and money concentrated around the illegal alcohol trade and those who controlled it. Likewise, while drugs have been illegal here in the United States, the number of users has not decreased, but money and power have congealed around the illegal drug trade, creating more problems than we originally had.
Making drugs legal might cause more recreational users, but if a man wants to act weird as a result of something he puts into his body on a Friday night in his home, that is not my, or anyone else’s, business. If I am harmed by another’s actions, then let the government step in and press charges on a man for his actions. Otherwise, let every American rule over their mind and body, so long as they act without causing harm to others. And if they wish to become a victim to their desires, then so much the better. Survival of the fittest, in a social sense.
James Barbeau,sophomore,English.