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“I do believe you will see greater enforcement” of federal marijuana laws, Spicer said. “When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people.”


I don’t know much about Spicer, outside of Melissa McCarthy’s sendup, but if he makes announcements like this one often, someone should send him to a vacation home. Where do you find logic like this? Next to the Twinkies at the local convenience store? Where except the White House can you find a grown man claim to the nation’s journalists that marijuana use and opioid use are related? Who can credit an idea like that?

Spicer can say, “Oh no, I didn’t mean they’re related directly. I just mean there’s an indirect relationship. When you create an atmosphere of leniency about drugs, it can lead to more use of all kinds of substances. Sort of like the graffiti and broken window effect on neighborhoods: an atmosphere of leniency about neighborhood maintenance can lead to more crime.”

That’s fair enough, but arguments about general leniency don’t work in the case of drugs. Government should get out of drug enforcement altogether. It’s not their business, any more than alcohol consumption is government’s business. Government’s business is to prevent crime. Consuming substances of various types is not a crime.

We used to say about prohibition’s failure when I was growing up: “You can’t legislate morality.” That doesn’t make the right point, though. The correct point does not concern where law touches morality. You simply have to think about what makes a crime, a crime. I don’t think you can define crime in general, or particular crimes, without some reference to moral concepts, such as the golden rule. Yet definitions of crime do not depend on these concepts. Criminal law, in that sense, is a self-contained discipline.

Government should get out of drug enforcement altogether. It’s not their business, any more than alcohol consumption is government’s business. Government’s business is to prevent crime. Consuming substances of various types is not a crime.

Consider the relationship between fluid mechanics and aerodynamics. If you understand how air acts like a fluid, even though we cannot see it, you gain a lot of insight. Nevertheless, people who design airplanes and people who design dams practice different disciplines. Moral philosophers and criminologists similarly practice different but related disciplines.

Anyone who thinks about use of substances like alcohol, marijuana, crack cocaine, or opiates quickly sees the moral elements of these questions. People addicted to drugs cannot take care of their families. They especially cannot take care of their families if they die. That does not make use of these substances a crime. It makes use of these substances a matter of concern for families, friends, churches, community groups, health care professionals, counselors, perhaps businesses, and other people involved with emotional health and cohesion of communities. Law enforcement malfunctions when it becomes involved with the health of social groups.

So when Sean Spicer or anyone else makes some pronouncement about how government wants to tighten up law enforcement for use of substances, have a look at the drug war in Mexico and ask yourself, how well has that worked out? Do you think Mexico appreciates that the U. S. takes such a strong hand in drug enforcement south of the Rio Grande? What do you suppose would happen if legal business organizations shipped natural substances, like peyote and cannabis, back and forth across the border at market prices? Do you think that would replace the currently illegal trade in highly refined and synthetic substances that kill so many now? If you somehow found a way to let people buy and consume what they like, the market would look quite different from the way it looks now.

Most of all, do you think we would witness drug wars and crime waves? Of course not. Wars and waves of this type are man-made. So when you think of moral elements in the matter of substance use, remember two things: do not underestimate the power of the feds, and do not underestimate the power of federal drug enforcement to screw things up.


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