Essay: Gore Vidal -- Drugs in a Piece

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Gore Vidal -- Drugs

In a piece in the New York Times in 1970 Gore Vidal, famous political provocateur, declared in no uncertain terms that, to stop drug addition in the United States, the government should "simply make all drugs available and sell them at cost." Vidal makes no distinction between drugs here -- marijuana, cocaine and heroin are all up for grabs in his free market drug economy. After all, he has tried "almost every drug and liked none," without becoming an addict; why shouldn't the rest of us have the same opportunity? Making all drugs legal, he argues, will "stop most drug addiction…within a very short time." Vidal also makes searing accusations against the government; not only that the war on drugs is a dismal failure on the scale of prohibition in the 1920s, but that the government itself is responsible for some addicts' deaths. I cannot be sure how Vidal's argument read in 1970, before the twin scourges of crack cocaine and meth entered the drug scene, but in the current context of drug addition, his argument rings hollow and comes off as the whining of a petulant teenager rebelling against his parents' house rules. As policy, Vidal's ideas would wreak havoc on the criminal justice system, increase bureaucracy and have a negligible effect on the number of addicts or the nature of their addictions.

Vidal seems to lack a basic understanding of how drug addiction truly works. His assertion, first, that he has tried most drugs and has never become an addict is a great anecdote, but it cannot possibly speak for everyone who tries drugs. After all, everyone who is a currently an addict had to try a drug for the first time. No one plans on becoming an addict, Mr. Vidal. Vidal also argues that the way to keep people from becoming addicts is to simply educate them about the dangers of the drugs, which would require "heroic honesty" on the part of the government, which would presumably manage the entire system. I wonder how Mr. Vidal would explain cigarette addiction. Warning labels first appeared on tobacco products in 1965, five years before Vidal's article appeared. In the years since, the warning have become more severe, basically saying, "Cigarettes kill. Don't smoke them." And yet, smoking rates over the past decade have not declined and smokers make up about 20% of the adult population (Number). Vidal argues that "it seems most unlikely that any reasonable sane person will become a drug addict if he knows in advance what addiction is going to be like." This argument makes absolutely no sense. Who among us does now know what the consequences of smoking are? We've all seen the X-rays of healthy lungs and smoker's lungs side-by-side. Many of us personally know people who have succumbed to the terrible, slow, ugly death of lung disease. And yet people start smoking, many of them in their teens, illegally. As I said before, no one plans on becoming an addict. The argument that addiction will be reduced by making drugs more available simply does not make sense, and Vidal seems to lack a real understanding of the realities of addiction.

Proposing his legalization scenario is also, for Vidal, a serious attach on the U.S. government. In 1970, all of the rhetoric from the government was about law and order and being tough on crime (Us History). Vidal even goes so far as to accuse the government of getting people hooked on heroin because it curtailed the supply of marijuana from Mexico in 1969. This seems to me a very simplistic summation of what is probably a very complicated story. Is Vidal really arguing that, because people could not get their hands on marijuana, they turned to heroin instead? Vidal thinks so, and he holds the government accountable for pushers getting "kids hooked on heroin" and the dramatic increase in heroin deaths. This argument is supported on two fronts. One is that the government has a vested interest in keeping drugs illegal because of the Bureau of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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