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Objections to drug legalizations unfounded

Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007

Updated: Sunday, December 14, 2008 01:12

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Walter Block

In my last column, I attempted to show that the last hope for our city in eliminating the recent scourge of murders is to legalize drugs. Why? Because a disproportionate number of these capital crimes takes place between drug gangs fighting over turf and the innocents caught in the cross fire. Legalize heroin, cocaine and marijuana, and such conflagrations will immediately cease, as they did when alcohol prohibition was ended in 1933.

In the present column I wish to consider, and reject, several objections to this very sensible plan.

1. If people drive while under the influence of drugs, the enormous increase in traffic fatalities will more than offset any saving of lives due to the elimination of murderous wars over drug turf.

Not so, not so. Drugs can be treated in roughly the same manner as alcohol. It is legal to use the latter product but not to drive while intoxicated. In like manner, it would no longer be a crime to erase brain cells with heroin, but it would be if you then get behind the wheel of a car.

2. This plan to legalize drugs would give a social imprimatur to abuse such substances. Children would be led to try them.

One cannot infer approval from mere legalization of an act or substance. Abortion, gambling, prostitution, alcohol and homosexuality are no longer criminal offenses in civilized societies, but the attitude of society toward them is one of strict neutrality, not approval. Right now, addictive drugs have about them the lure of the forbidden; youngsters are more likely to be tempted by them. Under legalization, no drug purveyors would hang around schoolyards, as they now do, and try to get kids to try their deleterious wares.

3. Drug legalization would empty the city to an even greater degree than at present.

There is one added benefit to New Orleans from implementing such a proposal: We will have gained for ourselves a new bouncing baby industry. Just as Las Vegas evolved from a stretch of desert into a world-class city when it was the only one to offer gambling, so will the Big Easy surpass its previous preeminence (it was once the leading city in the entire South) when it alone offers legal drugs. This industry all by itself will put us back on the map.

4. The state and federal courts will not allow New Orleans, all on its own, to declare itself a free enterprise zone in this regard. So, even if legalization would radically reduce our local murder rate, we will not be allowed to implement it.

Right now, like it or not, we are a tremendous burden on the rest of the state, and indeed the country. We could do far better on our own than with our palms up, begging for charity. As well, the federales owe us big. The flooding was the fault of their Army Corps of Engineers that built the porous levees. It was their FEMA that added insult to injury in Katrina's aftermath by preventing others from rescuing us, while doing nothing much on its own in this regard. It would come with particular ill grace for them to object to a plan that would, one, stop this horrid spate of murders cold in its tracks, and two, put us back on our feet, economically speaking.

5. But is it not scurrilous to be associated with such a product? New Orleans as the drug capital of the country is something that would disgrace us.

I answer that it is far more debilitating to take on our present role as the murder capital of the country, on a per capita basis.

6. The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1917 was implemented for a good purpose: to save ourselves from the scourge of drugs.

Has it succeeded? To ask this question is to answer it. People can purchase addictive substances in any major city in the country. No, this "war" has failed, like so many other such initiatives undertaken by government. The motivation behind this legislation had nothing to do with protecting the public in any case. It was pure and simple a racist anti-Chinese measure, in an attempt to criminalize them for using opium dens.

7. We are on the verge of winning the drug war. This is not the time to "cut and run."

The drug war is an utter and abysmal failure. And necessarily so. Every time a successful interdiction occurs, drug prices and profits rise, and this only strengthens the drug gangs. They are impregnable to such tactics.

New Orleans, let us legalize drugs! We have only to lose our title as a place where people are shot down in cold blood en masse. Mayor Nagin, let's go free enterprise. We won't be "chocolate" city; we'll be drug city instead. Safer, and a lot more prosperous.

Walter Block is a professor of business administration and Wirth chairman of economics.

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