George Soros is, like me, an admirer of Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies. I completely agree with Soros on almost every issue, except that he has no interest at all in anything spiritual. When I met him briefly at a conference in Vienna many years ago, his disconnect from anything Jewish reminded me of a man who has never fallen in love and regards such fancies as fool’s gold.
Recently he has gained notoriety for putting millions into a campaign in California to legalize marijuana. To my amazement the people of California, the home of spaced-out druggies, rejected the proposal. I guess the vested interests such as the Unions and the Mexican drug trade bought more votes. Soros supports the decriminalization of drugs. He has argued that governments should simply make money taxing drugs the way they do alcohol and tobacco. I agree with him.
That drugs are unhealthy, dangerous, and cause crime and death is indisputable. To what extent they degrade the human mind and body is debated, usually distinguishing “soft” drugs from “hard” ones. I remain highly skeptical that soft drugs do no harm. Ineffective drug laws and policing costs thousands of lives and billions of dollars that could be better spent elsewhere. American jails are filled with mainly black poor whose only chance of making big bucks seems to be drug crime.
Far too many deaths are caused by people operating machinery or vehicles, or being in charge of children while under the influence of drugs. Drugs have all but turned the Mexican/American border into scenes of medieval barbarity. Youngsters from all communities that I have come across are constantly seduced into use, dealing, and smuggling. Too many crimes are committed under the influence of drugs. Too many lives are wasted or destroyed. The “War on Drugs” has failed ignominiously.
Much of what can be said of drugs can be said of alcohol and tobacco. According to the BBC alcohol does far more harm, to a greater number of people, and costs society more than heroin. Even if one argues that alcohol in moderation has social and medical benefits that hard drugs do not, still alcohol and tobacco cost us billions in sickness, care, and death. Yet they are legal and are major sources of government income. It makes no sense not to do the same with drugs. Prohibition fuels crime. Taxation at least can help society.
It is argued that legalizing drugs that can be made or cultivated at home by anyone would not make government much money. That also used to be said of alcohol where moonshiners and do-it-yourself winemakers still ply their trade, but big business does a better job manufacturing and marketing easily available products of a higher quality and greater effect.
In theory, the money accumulated from taxing could be used to set up clinics, and improve rehabilitation and education. But politicians usually squander such windfalls on pet pork-barrel schemes. Besides, pouring millions into Britain’s health system doesn’t appear to have made any difference.
But the problem is much larger. People are taking legally prescribed “pharmaceutical” drugs all the time–to sleep, to wake, to have sex, to get thin, to put on weight, to calm down, to get excited, to get through the day, to get through the night, to get into school, to get through school, and to get out of school. The impact on bodies and minds is still undetermined.
The pharmaceutical companies are, at least in theory, controlled, and their products need some form of testing. They employ millions to legally make, market, and sell their products. They tend not to use physical violence to overcome competitors. Although, like all companies, they try to avoid paying tax on their profits, they usually end up paying something somewhere.
But there’s a wider issue here. Most of us willingly and without care for the consequences, ingest vast amounts of food, drink, and other stuff that is unhealthy. Either due to content or quantity it damages our systems. Many of us pursue hobbies or sports that are dangerous and cause millions of serious injuries every year. We engage in commercial activities that put us under enormous stress, degrade our mental welfare, and increase the risks of cancer and heart attacks. Are we going to criminalize all this too? If people want to eat themselves sick or fat and unhealthy, on kosher food or any other, let them. It is their problem.
Most humans have always tended to put faith in false material values, self gratification, rather than spiritual or moral ones. Throughout history we have experimented with drugs and poisons of all kinds and people have made good decisions and bad ones. I cannot see any significant distinction between the society we live in now and the Roman Empire at its most decadent, or Hogarth’s England–except that then only the wealthy and the privileged could indulge and now almost anyone can. Thank goodness then, as now, other sections of society have tried hard to make things better. As a libertarian, I am very much in favor of people being free to mess up their own lives if they choose to. The answer is education, not prohibition.
The counterbalance to decadence is ethical and or religious values–until they too descend, as they do, into corruption, megalomania, and hypocrisy. As we see around us, religion and superstition are hardly distinguishable at this point. People need quick fixes, banal religious substitutes, self-help gurus, and magic, no matter how it is disguised. And if none of those work, then many try drugs.
The wise person tries to do without false gods. The world has constantly been going through cycles of rises and falls, good guys and bad ones. The tools are around us, as they have always been, from mushrooms to mushroom clouds. Some of us have made poor choices and some of us have made wise choices.