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Friday, April 10, 2015

Are You Against Heroin Even Though Pro-Legalization of Pot?

One thing the vast majority of pro-legalization of marijuana supporters and anti-legalization advocates agree upon is the need to stop the heroin trade and greatly reduce the number of people addicted to the deadly substance. As opiate overdoses soar and death tolls mount, I believe no responsible person should support the use of heroin because that stand achieves no iota of positivity. I trust that the public agrees.

In addition, while many contend harsh prison penalties currently imposed on drug offenders are unjustified, even pro-legalization people generally hold, that under some circumstances, society is morally justified in punishing persons who produce and distribute heroin.

Dr. Peter de Marneffe, co-author of The Legalization of Drugs: For & Against, has been a visiting fellow at the Princeton University Center for Human Values, the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and a visiting assistant professor at Stanford University.

De Marneffe is strongly against heroin. He explains what he terms the "burdens principle" against heroin and its damaging effects.

According to the burdens principle, "the government violates a person's moral rights in adopting a policy that limits her liberty if and only if in adopting this policy the government imposes a burden on her that is substantially worse than the worst burden anyone would bear in the absence of this policy."

Using this principle, de Marneffe claims that burdens on drug vendors or users may be justified by the prevention of harms to a particular individual or individuals. As he puts it:
"What I claim in favor of heroin prohibition is that the reasons of at least one person to prefer her situation in a prohibition environment outweigh everyone else's reasons to prefer his or her situation in a legalization environment, assuming that the penalties are gradual and proportionate and other relevant conditions are met." (p. 161) 
(Douglas Husak and Peter de Marneffe. The Legalization of Drugs: For & Against.
Cambridge University Press. 2005)

It is the later harm to the ambition and motivation of young people that, according to de Marneffe, justifies criminalizing heroin production and sale. As he puts it:
"… the risk of lost opportunities that some individuals would bear as the result of heroin legalization justifies the risks of criminal liability and other burdens that heroin prohibition imposes on other individuals. The legalization of heroin would create a social environment -- call it the legalization environment -- in which some children would be at a substantially higher risk of irresponsible heroin abuse by their parents and in which some adolescents would be at a substantially higher risk of self-destructive heroin abuse."  (p. 124)
(Douglas Husak and Peter de Marneffe. The Legalization of Drugs: For & Against.
Cambridge University Press. 2005)

This analysis by Peter de Marneffe is strong ammunition against those involved in the heroin trade, but there is a major mind-scrambler to those who may logically argue that the "burdens principle" delineates substances that truly harm future generations from less harmful drugs and the way we incarcerate illegal drug offenders.

Dr. Douglas Husak, professor of philosophy at Rutgers, points out that one-fourth of all pack-a-day smokers lose ten to fifteen years of their lives but no one would entertain the idea of incarcerating smokers to further their health interests or in order to prevent non-smokers from beginning.

"Even if one were to accept that illicit drugs were more harmful or exacted greater social costs than tobacco and alcohol (and empirical studies do not generally support this thesis), that difference proves insufficient to justify imprisoning producers, distributors or especially users of illicit drugs." 

(Douglas Husak and Peter de Marneffe. The Legalization of Drugs: For & Against.
Cambridge University Press. 2005)

Husak accepts that drug use poses health risks but contends that the risks are not greater than others that are socially accepted such as smoking and drinking. He claims even if they were greater, imprisonment does not reduce, but compounds the health risks for prisoners.   

Husak finds punishing adolescent users a peculiar way to protect them. He thinks punishing one drug-using adolescent in order to prevent a non-using adolescent from using drugs is ineffective and also violates justice. He contends ...

"Punishing adult users so that youth do not begin using drugs and do not suffer from neglect -- which is de Marneffe's position -- is not likely to prevent adolescents from becoming drug users, and even if it did, one would have to show that the harm prevented to the youth justifies imprisoning adults. Husak contends that punishing adults or youth, far from protecting youth, puts them at greater risk."

(Douglas Husak and Peter de Marneffe. The Legalization of Drugs: For & Against.
Cambridge University Press. 2005)

Do we achieve morality with imprisonment? Husak says drinking alcohol or smoking are not considered immoral activities, which, in themselves, require imprisonment, but they present significant health risks ... perhaps as great or greater than those of illicit drugs.

Do we prevent other crimes by imprisonment? Husak, conceding a connection between drug use and crime, turns the argument upside-down, showing how punishment increases rather than decreases crime. 

"For one, criminalization of drugs forces the drug industry to settle disputes extra-legally. 

" Secondly, drug decriminalization would likely lower drug costs thereby reducing economic crimes. 

"Thirdly, to those who contend that illicit drugs may increase violence and aggression Husak responds that:
a) empirical evidence does not support marijuana or heroin as causes of violence, and
b) empirical evidence does support alcohol, which is decriminalized, as leading to violence.

Husak concludes ... 

"If we propose to ban those drugs that are implicated in criminal behavior, no drug would be a better candidate for criminalization than alcohol." (p. 70) 

(Douglas Husak and Peter de Marneffe. The Legalization of Drugs: For & Against.
Cambridge University Press. 2005)

Finally, Husak says punishing drug users likely increases crime rates since those imprisoned for drug use are released with greater tendencies and skills for future criminal activity.

I think that Husak and De Marneffe both pose very important arguments -- ideas that we must consider to stop the heroin epidemic currently sweeping our country. I agree with Husak that imprisonment without rehabilitation does not work. That is sorely evident.

I find the important distinction for imprisoning drug offenders is the difference between "using" heroin and "producing and distributing" heroin. Spreading the addiction by producing or distributing heroin is synonomous to promoting irresponsibly a poison that is known to be lethally infectious. I have no sympathy for pushers or dealers: I detest their greed and accumulated wealth.

Of course, what complicates this criminal liability is the fact that most users "distribute" heroin to afford their own costly habits. How can society punish those thugs most responsible for the heinous criminal damage to others, especially for the deadly harm to innocent young users, while incorporating needed changes to rehabilitate successfully those who abuse opiates?  

To me, effectively administering both punishment and promise requires a strong, swift sword wielded by an intelligent, up-to-date, clinically informed legislature, legal system, and enforcement community. Authorities must have the ability to surgically remove the cancerous heroin distribution system so entrenched in the United States by imprisoning them with stiff penalties. At the same time, they must increase rehab and intervention instead of lockup to those hopelessly suffering opiate addiction.

Never can we arrest and prosecute our way out of this heroin crisis, nor can we responsibly decriminalize heroin and live with the bloody consequences of completely ignoring the burdens principle. We are in the middle of a costly conflict that thrives on greed and on misery. Solutions, while expensive, are not beyond possibility ... if we are open to change and if we take action.

Please, I encourage all pro-legalization of marijuana supporters to turn your attention to helping others with less sympathy for your cause and join together with them to help stop heroin. This incessant argument of rights and of freedoms is so trivial when bodies poisoned by heroin pile up in every neighborhood in our country.

Every day that the majority sits on the fence while passively watching the carnage and occasionally commenting, "Oh, how sad," new heroin disciples become addicted to replace the deceased. This is not about philosophical arguments and American liberties and immoral "dopers": it is about greed destroying the lives of innocent Americans. We must pressure our government to take new, major steps to stop this Substance-induced Terrorism.

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