Civil libertarians dislike the heavy-handed tactics some police use in the "war on drugs." Asset forfeiture, for example, undercuts due process by giving drug enforcement agencies a monetary incentive to arrest both real and imagined criminals. That's a problem. But the solution to constitutional abuses is not to be found in ballot initiatives such as California's Proposition 36.
The public campaign for Prop. 36, "the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act," stresses treatment over jail for drug offenders. Backers say drug use is an illness that doesn't warrant the intrusive and probably unwinnable "war on drugs." If voters approve the measure, first-time offenders convicted of being under the influence or possessing drugs for "personal use" will get drug treatment in lieu of incarceration.
Critics say the measure will take the Golden State one step further down the road to legalization. Illegal drug manufacturers or distributors would still face jail time, of course. But the proposition is silent about how much of a narcotic would qualify for "personal use" versus how much might be assumed sufficient for trafficking.
The law has never granted first-time drug offenders a "get out of jail free card." What signal will this send to would-be users, or drug pushers? How many people will become addicted to heroin or cocaine before being caught and sent to treatment? Even then, will the treatment work?
These questions don't seem to concern Prop. 36's main supporter, George Soros. The Hungarian-born manager of the Quantum Group of Funds is a long-time supporter of drug legalization and proponent of what he calls the "Open Society.
Soros is convinced the war on drugs will lead inevitably to totalitarianism. One of his organizations, the Lindesmith Center, sponsors vigils for inmates, whom they call "drug war prisoners." Rhetoric aside, Soros argues that it is more effective and cheaper to stop the "demand" side of the problem with drug treatment.
Freedom-loving Americans will be tempted by such talk. They shouldn't be. As Soros surely knows, the laws of economics apply to drug use as well as to any other business transaction. Supply creates demand.
Supply here is controlled by drug dealers who try to create addicts. On the street, the first hit is often free. The idea is to get customers coming back for more. And there is no shortage of supply. Talk of a "war on drugs" is mostly just that, as the United States has done little to stem the flow of narcotics into the country from Communist China, Russia, Cuba, and Columbia.
Prop. 36's only answer is to roll the dice with drug treatment. Treatment will help some addicts, but not all of them. To the extent that Soros and other legalization proponents get this, they are stating a willingness to expose an untold number of Americans to the scourge of drug addiction having made it easier for them to become addicted in the first place.
But more important, drug use is incompatible with a free society. Unlike Soros' morally-neutral "Open Society," a free society requires citizens who can govern themselves. Self-government is made possible by virtuous behavior: fidelity to one's family, hard work, moderation, sacrifice, personal responsibility and a sense of duty to the general welfare of the community. Drug addicts do not display such discipline.
For all the talk of non-violent drug offenders filling up the jails, the fact is that illegal drug users are more likely to commit crimes against persons and property. They are more likely to miss work when they have jobs. Put simply, it's hard to be a good citizen when you are worried about where to get your next fix.
When drug use is redefined as a sickness, then the user is no more to blame for his condition than someone who catches the flu. Drug-related crimes, then, are just side effects of a disease. Without the stigma, without fear of punishment, there can be little doubt that some significant percentage of the population, who would never otherwise consider using drugs, may well succumb to the temptation.
The motto of Soros' Open Society movement is that "nobody is in possession of the ultimate truth." If Prop. 36 passes, this nihilistic sentiment will fit a drug-addled California perfectly.