Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Taxing Drug War...That Should Be Axed & Taxed

The United States needs to face the truth:  the self-styled "War on Drugs" died in its infancy. Long before modern crusades against both recreational and illicit drugs, humanity has sought ways to escape the realities of existence. With little to no success at stemming that cultural tradition even in recent decades – wasting billions in the futile attempt to enforce and thwart it – politicians, law enforcement and citizens nonetheless are naïvely surprised by statistics that continually verify the fact. When the U.S. ratified the Eighteenth Amendment (1919) that ushered in Prohibition, it set off an unprecedented, if not unexpected, era of criminality – from the average citizen frequenting an illegal speakeasy to the amateur and professional bootleggers running the liquor to them. People were willing to violate the law to have a drink, the government be damn!

The same is true when it comes to more exotic drug use. After Prohibition failed, the crusaders again turned their attention to a consistent target:  marijuana. From the early 20th century, the environmentally-friendly (no pesticides needed), naturally-growing economic staple – in the United States, industrial hemp production for use in uniforms, canvas and rope peaked at the height of the Second World War – steadily went from a recreational drug of choice to an illegal “gateway” ripe for abuse. With the earliest policies emphasizing that position shaped by overzealous bureaucrats, threatened industrialists and "yellow" journalists like Harry J. Anslinger, the DuPonts and William Randolph Hearst, what has been the consequence? Ironically, the criminalization, rather than the drug itself, has become a gateway to other illegal activities and drug use. There is a direct correlation between not only the illegalization of marijuana, but also that of cocaine and heroin, to the more destructive yet cheaper and easily man-made scourge of the past few decades:  crystal meth. In areas that once harbored basement greenhouses, now house ad-hoc labs.

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Even if it means combining household items purchased legally from the local store – rather than using a natural plant, like marijuana or even cocoa – people will always find a way to get a high.

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All one has to do is look at the tobacco industry as an example. Study after study points to tobacco use as a leading cause of cancer, and, by law, cigarette makers are required to carry such warnings. Politicians continually call for higher taxes on tobacco products, as a two-fold means of stamping out smoking and funding cancer research. Have Americans quit purchasing these products? Absolutely not. From Jamestown to the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution, the U.S. can trace its heritage intertwined with tobacco production. Hyperbole aside, tobacco has practically single-handedly funded this nation, and despite lawsuits and steeper regulation, the industry is still a multi-billion dollar revenue stream for both producers and government.

Today, both alcohol and tobacco are heavily enforced, regulated and taxed by layers of bureaucratic and enforcement agencies. Precedent exists for recreational drugs as well, from the Harrison Narcotics Act (1914) to the Marihuana Tax Act (1937). No matter the price, people will continue to use; sometimes, whether socially or otherwise, life dictates it. It is time the government stops wasting billions in taxpayer money on a “war” that, as history shows, cannot be won. Instead, there needs to be the realization that if you cannot beat them, join them – through strict enforcement, regulation and taxes. After all, revenue generation from taxed drugs is better than an open faucet taxing a lost cause. Just ask any pharmaceutical company. Or Australia, Germany or the Netherlands, which have seen positive results from instituting regulated, decriminalized drug laws.

©2012 Steve Sagarra

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