Just say ‘Whoa’ to the War on Drugs

Tommy Chong (as Anthony “Man” Stoner) and Cheech Marin (as Pedro De Pacas) get high on life in the 1978 Cheech & Chong movie “Up In Smoke.”

Cops bust large-scale college drug ring.

Another flashback?

No, another generational role reversal for old folks.

But before freaking out over that front-page news, including another Post and Courier story Friday, about an alleged fraternity-linked dope enterprise at the College of Charleston, keep in mind that it’s not exactly the Medellin Cartel.

And before too harshly condemning today’s crop of pot-smoking, coke-snorting, pill-popping and even some drug-selling scholars at institutions of higher learning, count the costs of America’s protracted — and futile — War on Drugs.

Count on those who want illegal drugs getting them despite the imprisonment of a large number (but small percentage) of those engaged in the contraband commerce on — and off — campus.

Count the masses of Baby Boomers who once violated the law (some still do) in pursuit of mood enhancement.

The dread of self-incrimination shouldn’t black out distant memories of the dope culture’s rise way back then — or awareness of its intoxicating staying power now.

Many of us current old-timers were warned as teens that smoking marijuana was likely to make you jump off a roof, kill your parents, pull out your eyeballs and other terrible stuff.

We learned that wasn’t true.

A few years later we were warned that snorting cocaine was likely to eat holes in your nose and character while inducing crazed betrayal of family, friends and sanity.

We learned that was true.

Think Aesop’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”

Think about the folly of still believing, after a half century of evidence to the contrary, that we can shut down the free, albeit illegal, drug market without turning the United States into a police state.

Think about the stale premise that in this land founded on individual liberty (and responsibility) buying an illegal drug is tantamount to a minor traffic offense but selling it is tantamount to armed robbery

This isn’t a plea to let frat boys, who once stuck to Drinking 101 basics, or anybody else sell illegal drugs.

Nor is it a dismissal of the terrible peril drugs pose to Americans — including many much too young for college.

Yet it is an appeal to remember that alcohol, still No. 1 in our drug-problem rankings, fuels many more traffic deaths, domestic violence cases and ruined lives than all illegal drugs combined. And though Prohibition didn’t achieve its sobering goal, it did vastly expand organized crime.

Meanwhile, modern Americans’ huge appetite for illegal drugs hasn’t just warped our country and culture.

Its colossal-profit motive has dangerously twisted nations south of the Rio Grande.

OK, so we should much more carefully scrutinize not just who but what enters our country — including what comes our way through the Port of Charleston.

However, we also know that our largely unenforceable — and rarely and unfairly when enforced — drug laws feed disrespect for other laws.

A few states have legalized pot. Maybe South Carolina should join that trend.

But even while copping a philosophical buzz on libertarian ideals, it’s hard to practically pitch letting Americans legally buy hard drugs (cocaine, heroin and powerful new opiods) as a good idea.

(answers at column’s end):

1) Name who said, while countering the argument that legalizing drugs would put the “vulnerable” at increased risk:

“There are an enormous number of innocent victims now. You’ve got the people whose purses are stolen, who are bashed over the head by people trying to get enough money for their next fix. You’ve got the people killed in the random drug wars. You’ve got the corruption of the legal establishment. You’ve got the innocent victims who are taxpayers who have to pay for more and more prisons, and more and more prisoners, and more and more police. You’ve got the rest of us who don’t get decent law enforcement because all the law enforcement officials are busy trying to do the impossible.”

2) Name who said: “I came to the conclusion that the so-called war against drugs was not working, that it would not work absent a change in the structure of the civil rights to which we are accustomed and to which we cling as a valuable part of our patrimony.”

1) Milton Friedman, free-market champion, conservative icon and 1976 Nobel Prize winner for economics, said that in 1991 during an interview on “America’s Drug Forum,” a PBS show.

2) William F. Buckley, another hero of the right, offered that 1995 insight, on how “a conservative should evaluate the practicality of a legal constriction,” to a panel of the New York Bar Association.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.