As usual, when members of the same party are slugging it out in a primary battle, everyone starts feeling the need to one-up the next person. I suppose that’s what we’re seeing with the recently ascendant Iowa caucus “winner” Pete Buttigieg. Most of the Democrats are in favor of legalization of marijuana, or at least decriminalization. But Mayor Pete doesn’t think we should stop there. He would legalize possession of all illegal drugs, including heroin and other opioids. He explained his reasoning during an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News. (Free Beacon)
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said on Sunday that under his administration, heroin possession would not be illegal or would at most be a misdemeanor.
“Mayor, you not only want to decriminalize marijuana, you want to decriminalize all drug possession. You say the better answer is treatment, not incarceration,” Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace said. “Isn’t the fact that it’s illegal to have, to possess meth and heroin, doesn’t that at least in some way, the fact that it’s illegal act as some deterrent to trying it in the first place?”
“I think of what we need to focus on is where you have distribution,” Buttigieg said. “Possession would not be dealt with through incarceration.”
Strangely enough, I happen to agree with Buttigieg – at least in theory – on his reasoning, though not the conclusion he arrives at. Locking people up for possession of illegal drugs doesn’t generally do much for the underlying problem that landed them behind bars in the first place. It’s true that many prisons do offer substance abuse treatment programs and those resources may wind up helping some people quit, but not a lot of them. In general terms, alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs only work when the person is motivated to seek help themselves. If they’re just sitting in a cell dreaming of getting out so they can get another fix, it probably won’t be effective.
Unfortunately, for all of his good intentions, Pete Buttigieg’s approach doesn’t do anything about the basic realities that Wallace brings up. Legalizing hard drugs like heroin, meth, fentanyl or cocaine would remove the disincentive for at least some people to try them in the first place. If you don’t start, you won’t get addicted. Also, making it legally “safer” to possess such drugs simply opens up new markets for dealers. The best way to fight drug trafficking is to reduce the demand for the product in addition to handing out harsh sentences for dealers.
The original argument in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana was that pot is essentially harmless, or at least no more harmful than alcohol. And for quite a while, that made sense to me. However, recent studies have suggested that the far more potent strains of marijuana available today increase the chances of developing psychosis or other mental instabilities. With that in mind, I’m not even sure decriminalizing pot for recreational use was such a great plan.
But even if you accept that argument, these highly addictive, hardcore drugs are an entirely different matter. There’s no “safe level” of heroin use. And its ability to trap nearly anyone into a terminal downward spiral is a serious enough threat to keep disincentives to its use in place. This effort to surge to the far left by Buttigieg looks like it misses the mark entirely and may backfire on him.