From my youngest days, my parents had serious addictions that devastated my family. Violence, lying, stealing. My parents did lots of drugs. Marijuana, pills, crack. To me, there was no difference. I just knew that those drugs were why the fridge was empty. I hated drugs. I thought they were evil. I thought the people who did drugs were evil. I seethed in my despair.
One day when I was in seventh grade, my friend tom and I had a political discussion. He said our war on drugs was all wrong, and that drugs, all of them, should be decriminalized. I can’t describe how my stomach lurched when he said that, how repulsed I was by my friend at that moment. It didn’t matter what facts he stated or how is argument was laid out. He didn’t know what it was like to live with drug addicts. He didn’t know what it was like to have parents that would be gone all night. He didn’t know what it was like to never know when your dad would start lashing out. He just didn’t understand what I knew in my heart, that drugs were dangerous and had to be eliminated.
I was twelve when I had that conversation and that opinion. Years later, I met hundreds of people. Some who smoked pot and could still go to work and school! People who had smoked pot or did other more serious drugs when they were younger and walked away from them when they matured. In college, I minored in sociology. I learned about the drug war and addiction. I learned about poverty. I learned about how and why people turn towards dangerous paths even when they should know better.
And I learned my heart was wrong. It is hard not to be emotional when people’s lives are being ruined in the most despicable ways, when children are neglected and abused because of their parents’ problems. Who wouldn’t want to do the right thing to keep people safe and clean? Who doesn’t want to keep drugs away from kids? It isn’t about what we want, but the right thing to do. Emotions are never a good strategy for building public policy. Emotions get in the way of thinking through the consequences of what do.
My first reaction to drugs was the same, to ban them, police them, make them go away. But they aren’t going away, are they? It’s just not that easy. People and their problems are so much more complicated than clicking your heels and making it better. People are stubborn, unpredictable, determined, unstoppable. I accepted the fact that I can’t make someone do what’s right. I can’t make my parents change their lives. I accepted that sometimes people do things they shouldn’t, no matter how much I try to dissuade them.
The drug war is a cure that’s worse than the disease, a travesty, a crime against American lives that accomplishes nothing but makes things worse. Drugs, like meth and crack, are more dangerous than imaginable. They turn people into dogs, into slaves. But a police state isn’t going to change that. We cannot save people from themselves. I have had to turn away from my parents because their problems are just too big for me to survive, but their problems started a long time before they started with drugs. Their problems were a big part of them turning towards drugs and spiraling out of control. Not every person who does drugs is like my parent or an addict. And all the addicts out there, like my parents, are not helped by the drug war. There children aren’t helped. I was not helped.
Seeing the horror of drug addiction from the front lines, I know exactly what kind of life a drug addict has to look forward to. I know how badly friend and family are hurt. So I know how important it is that we as a nation and a community do something about this. But we cannot do something that just makes us feel better. We have to do something that is effective, helpful, moral, possible. Something real. The war on drugs just doesn’t work. It’s wasting our time, and a lot of people’s lives. It’s time for us to quiet our emotions and think intelligently about what is really going on. Then we can really do something.