For a country born out of resisting authoritarian over-reach, the US has since the Revolution become curiously enamored with, well, authority. The police and military, as instruments of authority, are near venerated by a sizeable number of Americans, and the power that they wield is alarming.
Take the infamous “War on Drugs” for example. Literally billions of dollars have been poured into a near militarized campaign against drug use since the 1980s – and all without changing a thing. Drug use continues regardless. Just as how the death penalty is no deterrent to those who are determined to kill, likewise those that wish to use drugs will do so irrespective of them being illegal or not.
The police, judiciary and penal system are pouring seemingly endless resources into the futile “War on Drugs.” Cliché as this will sound, it is still very, very true – those resources could be much better used elsewhere, tackling much more serious crime. Further, the “War on Drugs” has served to criminalize millions of Americans with convictions and jail-time for narcotics offences.
It is of course no coincidence that many of those convicted of drug-related crimes are poor, young, male and black – another unsavory aspect of policing in today’s America.
Should you happen to be white, you are less likely to be targeted by the police for drug offences and should you happen to be wealthy, well, it’s amazing what a slick lawyer can do for you when charged as such. Not only is that an inherent bias in the American criminal system, the reality is only a privileged few have that option. Seems like justice comes with a fee, right?
How ironic it is that the “land of the free” not only has the highest levels of incarceration in the Western world, many being drug-related, but also does not afford its citizens the basic freedom to choose to take drugs or not.
In 2001, Portugal took the bold step of decriminalizing all drugs – from pot through to heroin. The realization in Portugal being that drug use is a public health issue as opposed to a criminal issue. Drug use is not stigmatized and, crucially, won’t end up with someone up before a judge looking at jail time. Instead, professional health and social work groups and panels in Portugal are there to help those with drug use issues.
As a result, drug use in Portugal has actually lowered since 2001 . Which has also led to a fall in drug-related crime – such as is rampant here in the US where for the most part, drug-use operates on the black market.
Drug use is ultimately an adult’s decision to make as opposed to the government.
Like-wise with prostitution. Again, the US is simply hanging on to an outdated, clumsy policy of criminalizing prostitution that doesn’t work. As with drugs, people re going to engage in prostitution irrespective of it being legal or not. By keeping prostitution illegal, it drives the practice down into the morass of underworld criminality, violence and health risks.
Take another Western country for example, the Netherlands. Prostitution in the Netherlands is legal, regulated and absolutely not stigmatized by government and society. And just as how decriminalizing drugs in Portugal has not led to some Mad Max style collapse of society, neither has legalized prostitution in the Netherlands.
The Dutch and Portuguese models should be commended for what they are – sensible, “grown up” solutions for societal issues that simply can’t be stamped out by heavy-handed police and Courts here in the US. No number of SWAT raids on impoverished, inner-city properties across the US is ever going to change that.
It is long past time for the US to move on beyond sensationalizing, brutalizing and criminalizing drug use and prostitution in the twenty-first century. Rather than continuing with its bizarre fixation on fighting societal battles that can never actually be won, the US would now do well to imitate some of its Western partners and decriminalize both prostitution and all drug use.
This will need a sea-change in perception from prostitution and drug use being seen in a criminal sense through to being properly tackled and regulated as the public health matters they really are. In doing so, the US would give itself a better chance of being a genuine “land of the free” as opposed to a supposed one that we currently have right now.