By Derek Danneker
March 9, 2017
I exited the chilled and blusterous air created by the departing trains, rounding the corner of the marbled floor and tiled walls to ascend up the stairs. Our itinerant coalition arrived at Suburban Station, Philadelphia, on our way to celebrate the impending marriage of our compatriot. As I hit the crest of the staircase, so too did the rancid air hit me. The malodor, that I immediately and easily recognized, was burnt cigarettes and body odor. Phlegmatic and stolid faces lifted to us as we traversed. A limping man meandered behind us muttering a slurred sales pitch. We ignored him. I glanced down a hall to see a man prostrate and pressed against a corner as we passed a woman sluggishly pushing a cart filled with miscellaneous items. The benches were mostly filled with people in refugee attire, two men among them sharing a sandwich spread between them. Yellow light stains the terrain. It seems to ooze from the opaque bulbs, illuminating garbage spread thoroughly amongst the populous.
The homeless and destitute gather here, because the large and heavy doors keep out most of the cold. Drug use is rampant, or assumed to be from the weathered and sunken vestiges that glanced at us and the lugubrious lumbering walk that most had. Even then, as I moved along, I remembered thinking to myself, “this is why all drugs should be made legal.”
Perhaps a clarification is in order: I imagine that all small amounts of drugs should be made legal. In actually, I don’t have to use much imagination. Legislation of a similar kind has already been enacted in Portugal and The Netherlands. The positive effects of it in Portugal are plain to see: HIV infections are down 90 percent since 2001 and so is adult drug use since 2001. Both facts are reported by the think-tank Transform and the country is second-lowest in overdoses in the European Union according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
Criminalization, on the scale we see today, pushes drug users to use harder drugs. Marijuana, proven to be quite benign, is bulky and has the tendency to reek. Consequently, the Drug Enforcement Agency has been widely successful in catching the transportation and growing of marijuana. This drives the price of it up. Naturally, drug users move to cheaper and more easily transported drugs like meth or cocaine.
Some people are arrested simply for non-violent possession, raising the number of people incarcerated, wasting taxpayer money and ruining lives of casual users who have done no harm to anyone but themselves. Criminalization of the drugs regardless of amount takes attention away from the dealers and traffickers, who by and large are more likely to be violent.
The United States’ War on Drugs has risen the price of all illicit drugs while pushing the distribution underground. American gangs owe the DEA for their livelihood, they ensure the gang’s monopoly and high asking price. Setbacks in the trade are costly, so only those who have money or men to lose engage in it.
Also gangs don’t have quality assurance. I’m sure this come to no surprise. Fentanyl, which is an anesthesia drug 30-50 times more powerful according to the DEA, is sometimes added to heroin when the actual heroin that is sold is deluded. Fentanyl can also be added to oxycodone, ecstasy, heroin, MDMA or cocaine. The euphoric effect being the same, many users can’t tell the difference. However, only .25 mg of fentanyl can cause an overdose. This led the DEA to issue a nationwide alert about fentanyl in 2015 where it was stated that “Rhode Island and Pennsylvania have also seen huge increases since 2013. In a 15-month period, about 200 deaths were reported in Pennsylvania related to fentanyl.”
Those homeless people who inhabited the station that day, many predisposed to drug use, could have clean needles and smoking pipes provided by hospitals as it is done in Portugal, thus limiting the spread of bloodborne pathogens like AIDS and the inhalation of toxic chemicals that some kinds of glass give off when heated. The homeless there would have no shame or fear of arrest in going to a hospital for help rather than overdosing in the streets.
The only hypothetical drawback to the legalization of all drugs is perhaps an increase in addicts, though the evidence coming out of Portugal shows the opposite effect. I have no sympathy for the addict who doesn’t want help after repeated offers. People are at liberty to make their own decisions with their own bodies. I do, however, have sympathy for those who have been caught in the crossfire of the War on Drugs and those who fear the retaliation of their government in the rehab they seek. It would be in the name of sympathy and humanism to legalize all drugs.