For my part, I am broadly in favor of drug legalization. My libertarian streak is strongest when personal behavior is concerned, and I happen to believe that people should have the right to utterly destroy themselves if they want to. If consenting adults want to ravage their bodies with crystal meth, I don't see why it should be society's job to prevent it.
Further, the War on Drugs has been markedly ineffective at preventing access to drugs and the subsequent problems of addition, crime, etc. Having now worked in a wide variety of settings, from the inner city to impoverished rural areas, I can say with a certain degree of confidence that desperate, determined people can get drugs wherever and whenever they want to. I also do not believe that most people who avoid drugs do so because they are illegal, but because they are harmful. Add in the enormous costs in terms of incarcerating drug criminals, fighting cartels in the increasingly violent border areas and beyond, keeping opium profits away from terrorist groups, etc etc etc, it seems to be that the War on Drugs has been far more costly than it was worth.
However, whatever the particular merits (or lack thereof) of McWhorter's argument as it pertains to the black community, the British authority he cites with approval strikes me as insane. McWhorter quotes Bob Ainsworth's address to the House of Commons:
“We need to take effective measures to rob the dealers of their markets and the only way that we can do that is by supplying addicts through the medical profession, through prescription. We cannot afford to be shy about being prepared to do that.”
He continues: “We spend billions of pounds without preventing the wide availability of drugs. It is time to replace our failed war on drugs with a strict system of legal regulation, to make the world a safer, healthier place, especially for our children. We must take the trade away from organised criminals and hand it to the control of doctors and pharmacists.”This particular doctor wouldn't touch the drug trade with a ten-foot clown pole, thanks all the same. Frankly, I cannot imagine any ethical doctor or pharmacist feeling otherwise.
Let's start with the idea of what medicine is meant to do. It is meant to promote good health and cure disease. Providing users (not just addicts, mind, but users of all stripes) with a means of getting high does neither. One might argue that certain drugs (most commonly marijuana, and also certain psychedelics) are essentially harmless, and some psychiatric research has explored how they may have therapeutic uses. Fair enough, I suppose. But "I'd like to get high" is not a compelling argument for "treatment," or whatever else one might want to call it. And that's to say nothing of the well-described and overwhelming health risks associated with drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. The promise to "first, do no harm" goes right out the window, does it not?
Now, perhaps one might argue that doctors should be allowed to prescribe all manner of narcotics legally to people willing to seek treatment for addiction. I have some qualms with this idea, but at least one could plausible squeeze it into the disease/treatment paradigm. But, as I mention earlier, what about all the people who would want to use a little coke this weekend but are loath to call themselves addicts? What possible argument exists in that case? What physician with any scruples would sign up for the role of dealer? And if only addicts can obtain drugs legally from their doctors, how does medicalizing illicit drug use correct the problem of the War on Drugs to begin with?
Further, it seems to me that wherever drugs are dispensed, there's still going to be a high risk of crime. Those places would be ripe for robbery. I have a hard time imagining Rite Aid being willing to risk selling heroin alongside the Dristan, much less the nice family practice down the street.
I suspect that even if drugs somehow were to become legal across the board, they will never be legitimized. People will always need to turn to the seamier elements in society for a fix, because only those parts of society are willing to assume the risks associated with the trade. (Again, this argument does not apply so much to marijuana as to the more addictive, destructive drugs already mentioned.) It seems not only somewhat fitting that such a harmful personal choice should remain in the demimonde, but also the only feasible option.