thehumanist | The legislation of morality is widespread; from blasphemy to gay inequality to reproductive rights, religious majorities actively persecute those with differing values through the codification of morality. And while many of these marginalized groups have seen notable public support, the public is largely silent when it comes to the marginalization of those who choose to use drugs. Just as religion often labels those with alternative sexual preferences as morally corrupt or evil, so too does religion judge those who choose to use drugs and alcohol as morally inferior.
Part of the philosophy of humanism is to stand against outdated codes of morality that persecute and make life difficult for people. Just as LGBT issues are humanist issues, so too are drug and alcohol issues. When evaluating how society treats inebriants, science and reason should be the standards by which we create policy, not ancient religious texts. Most comparative policy studies agree that drug and alcohol abuse should be regarded as a public health issue, as opposed to a criminal justice issue, and that public funds are best spent on drug treatment and prevention rather than enforcement and incarceration.
Predominant theocratic norms have so influenced society that tacit acquiescence for religious prejudice has largely replaced critical analysis when it comes to social attitudes towards drug use. Indeed, there is little opposition, even among nontheists, to laws that persecute those who choose to use drugs. However, humanism and human decency afford that individuals with varying values and beliefs should be respected, not shunned.
One example of a largely unopposed, overly harsh drug law in the United States is the Higher Education Act’s Aid Elimination Penalty, which states that any individual with a misdemeanor drug offense is to be barred from receiving federal financial aid to attend college. Because of the provision, hundreds of thousands of promising students have been forced to drop out of college because of minor, nonviolent drug offenses. The penalty was introduced in 1998 by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), a Christian conservative whose battles included anti-abortion legislation and the prohibition of online gambling. Heavily influenced by his religion, when asked about his position on abortion, Souder responded, “the closer to the clearness of the Bible, the less ability I should have to compromise.” Ironically, this moral crusader left office in 2010 after admitting to an affair with a staffer, lamenting in his resignation speech that he had “sinned against God.”
- See more at: http://thehumanist.org/march-april-2013/prohibition-humanism/#sthash.pjJFzCvB.dpuf
While drug laws that prevent access to education have untold social costs, the financial burdens of the war on sin can be more easily calculated. In 2010 alone, the Office of National Drug Control Policy estimates that this so-called war cost the U.S. federal government $15 billion, and state governments another $25 billion. Incarceration costs alone can be staggering. In 2011 the State of California spent $45,006 per inmate and approximately 31 percent of all California inmates were booked on drug offenses. To put that into perspective, the state spent $8,667 per college student in the same year. Because of the war on drugs’ mandatory minimum sentencing laws, Americans now comprise 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but 23.4 percent of its prison population.
The Obama administration has at least vocalized concerns regarding the failure of national drug policy. As stated in its recently released 2012 National Drug Control Strategy: “science has shown that drug addiction is not a moral failing but rather a disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated.” However, upon review of the actual policy, many have concluded that the only thing changed is the wording. “This strategy is nearly identical to previous national drug strategies,” stated Bill Piper, the director for national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. “While the rhetoric is new, reflecting the fact that three-quarters of Americans consider the drug war a failure, the substance of the actual policies is the same.” Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein raised similar concerns, noting that “President Obama promised to use a science-based approach to public policy. But when it comes to marijuana, he has continued the unscientific policies of George Bush, and has even gone far beyond Bush in his attacks upon medical marijuana clinics.”
Eighty-some years ago, the primary motivations for ending the alcohol prohibition were the staggering economic costs of enforcement, as well as the huge impact of lost tax revenues. A 1929 pamphlet distributed by the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment estimated that the total loss of federal tax revenues was $861 million, the equivalent of $108 billion dollars today. The nation, in the midst of the Great Depression, was in desperate need of these tax revenues to implement economic stimulus programs, and so in 1932 a bipartisan effort saw the passing of the Twenty-first Amendment. Perhaps a similar appeal to reason can be made in our current time of financial uncertainty. If nothing else, perhaps religious lawmakers can be made to see that their war on sin has failed in economic terms.
Ideally, a majority of lawmakers may eventually come to realize that drug experimentation is a natural human phenomenon—that humans are instinctively attracted to mind-altering substances.