The Blame Game…

It’s official, or at least semi-official:  the United States has the highest rate of incarceration of any industrialized nation in the world… and by a huge margin.

Why?  Obviously, there’s no one single cause, but the largest factor is our drug laws, which criminalize possession of small amounts of drugs and the use of marijuana.  One of the associated problems with criminalizing marijuana is that the drug is ubiquitous and widely used, and that means prosecution and incarceration for use, possession, or distribution is in most cases highly selective, and selective enforcement is anything but just.  On the other hand, busting everyone who uses marijuana is essentially physically impossible.

As a matter of practicality, it’s becoming clearer and clearer, not that it hasn’t been so for a long time, if anyone really cared to look, that the massive criminalization of drug use is anything but healthy for the United States.  Prisons now cost most U.S. states more than they spend on all forms of education, and those costs are rising.  The massive amounts of money and profit from illegal drugs are fueling gang violence in both the U.S. and Mexico, and, in general, police efforts have a modest effect, at best, on even holding that violence in check.

So what if we changed our approach to drugs?  What if we just legalized their use for adults over 21?

Immediately, the outcry is likely to rise – What about all those poor drug victims?

Well… what about them?  What about handling the issue the way we generally deal with alcohol?  We tried outlawing alcohol for everyone, and that was a disaster.  The compromise was to forbid its use and consumption by people under 21 [or sometimes 18], and to prosecute those who supplied it to underage drinkers.

The anti-drug legalization forces tend to focus, whether they realize it or not, on saving people from their own worst impulses. This is, unhappily, a selective approach, in our society, applied in some areas and not in others, and it’s an approach that works in some cases and not in others.  Seatbelt laws work as well as they do, I’m convinced, because in a very real sense, they’re really not more than a minor change in behavior.  As a matter of fact, in a car, in any car, you really can’t move around that much anyway.  A seat-belt law restricts that movement slightly… and saves tens of thousands of lives annually – and it doesn’t lead to the development of a trillion dollar underground economy in seat-belt cutters, or the like.  The same sort of argument can be made for many [but not all] health and safety regulations.

What we might better consider is legalizing drugs, requiring standards for them – and holding drug users totally responsible for their actions.  In other words, if someone chooses to use drugs and commits a crime either under the influence or to obtain funds for such drugs, the penalties should be even tougher… because they made the choice to use drugs, knowing the possible consequences.  Likewise, penalties for pushing drugs to those underage should be extraordinarily severe.

But, of course, none of this will happen, because no one really wants to hold people responsible for their actions, whether those people are students who want good grades without working hard and without studying, or politicians who haven’t the nerve to tell constituents that they can’t have more government services without more taxes, or Silicon Valley internet companies who want free content without paying for it, or Wall Street financiers who escape prosecution for what was essentially fraud and misrepresentation….

No… someone else is always to blame.


13 thoughts on “The Blame Game…”

  1. Wine Guy says:

    Drug legalization has been a hot topic button where I live for a long time (CA). Dipping a hypocritical toe into the pool with ‘medical marijuana’ hasn’t done anything but confuse the issue here. More than 80% of people who have recommendations for medical marijuana use their drug recreationally. It isn’t a prescription: there is no amount, dosing regimen, or dispensing information and the law says ‘recommendation.’ There are scores of different variations of marijuana, many different ways to dose yourself (smoke, butter, brownies, etc.). And there’s no consensus in the medical community as to how it is to be used or if it is even effective (large scale randomized trials have many methodological problems). The only thing it has been PROVEN to do in CA is increase the rate of home invasion, theft, and robbery.

    Do not mistake me: I am not opposed to legalization, but it will have to be regulated like alcohol. Like Mr. M, I’m just very afraid that the US lacks the willpower to hold ourselves responsible for our action (or lack of action).

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    Or maybe we just ought to recognize that addictive personalities are incurable most of the time, and _execute_ third strike offenders.

    While I’d love to go all libertarian and say that people can do anything they please to themselves, when they self-regulate with chemicals that seriously alter their own state of mind, they endanger those around them, whether at the wheel of a car, or just by making really bad decisions.

    The only thing an addictive personality can do is abstain from whatever they’re readily addicted to. If they don’t understand that, they need to be separated for life from the rest of us.

    There are probably some other behaviors that follow a pattern like addiction, including the danger to others. I’m fine with frying those offenders too, after due process of course.

    If we ever bring back public hanging, complete with family picnics so one can use the spectacle as an object lesson, my standing gag is that I want the popcorn franchise.

  3. Derek says:

    I’m sorry, but when the word “proven” is used, without citation, I tend to be a little skeptical. Is there something that isn’t anecdotal to prove this assertion?

    I’m no advocate for the use of marijuana mind you, just an advocate for accurate representation of information.

    1. Derek says:

      In response to Wine Guy, not Mr. Modesitt’s views. Just clarifying.

      1. Wine Guy says:

        Please, do not take my word for it.

        You can go to the California Attorney General’s website ( and look at the arrest rates yourself. Rates of arrests for theft, burglary, and assault, both felony and misdemeanor, have been climbing steadily since marijuana was legalized for medicinal purposed, though there is convincing evidence that less than 15% of the marijuana in the state is actually being used for medicinal purposes. Can all of this be attributed to marijuana? No. But both California and Oregon have noticed a distinct trend in that direction (check DEA website ).

        In addition, if you just look at arrests for marijuana, though the numbers were declining 1990-1999, they began to rise, especially in juveniles (who are not covered by Prop 215) because it is now quite easy to obtain. Once the verbiage of the Prop was clarified by state statute, the arrests went up >30% in juveniles.

        Waiting for the hard proof of 20-25 years of research seems foolish. Colin Powell’s 40-70 rule of thumb on % of information known seems to apply quite well here.

  4. AMos says:

    Execute third strike offenders? “Third strike” laws are, if you look at the Dept. of Justice data, the largest contributing factor to the rising rates of incarceration. Sure executing such people would take care of that, but you can’t be serious, can you?
    The impulse behind that is not one of concern for people involved, but an “out of sight, out of mind” hand washing. Should we really treat people with treatable troubles (the addictive personalities mentioned above) as mere inconveniences, gotten rid of because it’s the easiest course? I’m assuming the belief is that this would make society safer; but treating human life with such disdain–what kind of society, what kind of people, would that make us?

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      You’re almost right about the impulse – I want repeat offenders, and especially repeat offenders that pose some ongoing risk to others, removed from society permanently.

      My only major concern about executing people for many repeated and potentially dangerous offenses is that the highest possible standard of proof apply before an irreversible action is taken…and yes, I’m well aware that hasn’t always been the case.

      This has nothing to do with valuing life, it’s about maximizing rather than minimizing consequences, nothing more. Not personal one way or the other.

      1. Nate says:

        Not personal to you maybe, but I’m thinking it’s pretty personal to the one being executed.

        There are certain drugs that I think are inherently dangerous because of the effects of the drug. Methamphetamine comes to mind, because the mental alteration is so severe and involves a heightening of aggression that their use should remain illegal. But the vast majority of recreational drugs are harmful only to their users. Tobacco presents more health risks to people around the user than does marijuana. And most drunk driving laws state that it is illegal to drive while under the influence of any conscious altering drugs.

        If you think that punishment should be more severe for all impaired driving, I certainly agree with you. But I would suggest complete and permanent suspension of all driving privileges, rather than summary executions.

        1. Wine Guy says:

          Lack of possession of a driver’s license does not keep people from driving. What would you suggest for the scofflaws?

          I’d propose confiscation of the vehicle registered in their name – whether it belongs to them or not. In addition, I find little reason to not place liens on property, garnishing wages, and/or mandatory testing and counseling.

  5. tfl says:

    why does a kid take potentially life destroying drug in the first place? because he is coaxed to it, i think. take away the money and there is no reason to push anymore.

    but, if you add extra penalties to one drug, woudnt you have to add them to all, including alcohol? i mean, whats the difference? and would this lead to less prisoners at the end of the day.

    if you dont penalize(?) everything, i could see it leaving the door open for criminals to sell designer drugs, mushrooms or whatever. not much of a gain, especially if legslizing increases the amount of addicts instead of decreasing them.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      I have no problem with executing someone that’s killed another person in a drunk driving accident…or a stoned driving accident (assuming those happen) either…or any other accident resulting from voluntary self-impairment.

      Alcoholic beverages are a bit different, though. There have been a number of studies showing consumption in _moderation_ of at least some such has positive effects on health.

      The problem is that for some people, moderation simply isn’t an option, only total abstinence is. As yet, nobody can tell them that.

      Both the benefits and the problems that some have have been anecdotally understood for thousands of years, but only recently studied enough to begin to provide guidance that would satisfy people who want any guidance they’re subjected to to be based on proof rather than imposed morals.

      While it would be a huge privacy and insurance issue, it would be helpful if there were tests that could be run to advise people of their risks of at least those types of addiction that seem to have a strong genetic component.

      1. Mayhem says:

        The problem is that addiction is at the same time both a psychological and a physiological disorder.
        And modern society and product marketing involves actively targetting specific response stimuli – look at the number of people now becoming addicted to online games or facebook. The physical nature of withdrawal might be reduced as compared with drug removal, but the mental nature is identical.

        In general, people should be responsible for their own actions. But people vary in how susceptible they are to the physical and mental triggers that lead to addiction. Tobacco addiction for example was amplified by long term work by corporations to optimise the addictive nature of their product, while mitigating the short term side effects.
        And people can be forgiven for suffering addictive behaviour while under those influences. Some find it easy to quit. Some are more susceptible, and find withdrawal far more demanding. Others might stop easily, but are more vulnerable to the societal influences that caused them to start originally so can’t stay away.
        It is hardly an offense punishable by death to suffer from an addiction to anything, it is just a disorder, like any other. And one in which some forms are judged acceptable by society while others aren’t. Hardly unusual.

  6. rehcra says:

    I am fundamental opposed to increased penalties based on conduct one is biased against. Whether that conduct increases the risk of said broken law or not. In my opinion each action should be deemed separate. If drinking while driving is illegal then a penalty should be set for that action. Any further penalty should come directly from those violations. A penalty should match the crime not the way we feel people should have acted. Nor is throwing biases into the equation anymore helpful.

    As for legalizing drugs, I have to agree with the premise that it is both anti-productive and socially limiting freedoms so others can pass blame.

    I would like to see a Licensing system set up equivalent to the DMV with different licenses for different drugs and activities people may undertake while using. Tests included. This is not something that could be set up over night and would be filled with flaws. There are a lot of factories that would need to be considered;Cost of drugs vs. Amount consumed, Health risks, On Job Risks, taxes, Anonymity of users vs. protection of non-Users, Benefits and cons on society as a hole. Maybe it could be given a trial run in a single state but I have to feel like the initial negative side effects would clearly cross state lines.


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