24 January 2012 ~ 2 Comentarios

My body, my choice

by Carlos Alberto Montaner

(The Miami Herald) Guatemalan general Otto Pérez Molina began his presidency with a bold and intelligent proposal: We need to examine the possibility of totally decriminalizing drug consumption. He does not say that that’s the path to follow, but he does recommend that it be considered.

Guatemala is one of the world’s most violent countries, and the use and distribution of drugs is part of that phenomenon. Pérez was elected to restore public safety, and it is his responsibility to arbitrate solutions.

The two arguments against decriminalization have a lot of weight. It seems proven, given the case of marijuana in Holland, that, when drugs are permitted, consumption increases. Many of those who develop the habit of drug consumption are literally destroyed by it. Kicking the habit is very difficult.

Also, it is not certain that the legalization of drug trafficking will reduce violence. Criminals, once their business ends, migrate toward three other illegal activities: extortion, prostitution and armed robbery.

The practical arguments in favor of decriminalization also are valid. If the sale and use of drugs are legitimized, and they’re treated like alcohol and tobacco, accompanied by big advertising campaigns against the harm they cause, in addition to the fact that the state would benefit from the taxes, the same will happen that happens today with alcoholic beverages and cigarettes: Consumption among the youngest will slowly diminish.

In the Mercosur countries, where the cigarette packs bear nauseating photographs of lungs destroyed by nicotine and mention bad breath or the stench left in clothing by cigarettes, smoking no longer has a glamorous aspect and teenagers apparently are beginning to turn away from that vice.

But there’s more. It is true that, if they lose the trade, the murderers in the drug cartels will turn to other kinds of crimes, but, although it is easier to combat half a dozen nationally structured organizations than hundreds of small gangs of criminals, the truth is that the big mafias have a corruptive capacity that is not within the grasp of the small, isolated gangs of criminals.

The cartels possess and use their enormous economic resources to infiltrate and corrupt politicians and officials. They buy lawmakers, judges, military personnel and policemen. Sometimes they’re elected to Parliament, like Colombian Pablo Escobar. When that happens, there is talk of “failed states” or “narco-nations,” as happened to Panama, in the days of Manuel Antonio Noriega.

And then there’s the moral debate: What right does the state have to decide what an adult, in the fullness of his mental faculties, can do with his body if he harms only himself? If that person chooses to smoke marijuana, sniff cocaine or mainline heroin, he has elected to harm himself because it pleases him, and it’s nobody’s business to try to stop him by force.

These are harmful behaviors, freely chosen, similar to those of people who opt to eat until achieving a morbid obesity, putting their lives at risk, or opt to drink until they fall down, or opt to constantly vomit their food so they can maintain the skeletal slimness that pleases them esthetically — the awful bulimia that affects so many young women.

It is not the function of the state to protect us from ourselves. That’s the task of the parents and the family, who, in the process of educating their children and always aware that there is an undiscovered region very hard to explore, must endow them with common sense, prudence and the right values so they can use their freedom sensibly when they reach maturity.

To me, this last argument is the weightiest in this difficult debate. It is obvious that the consumption of psychotropic drugs that affect our perceptions and enslave us physiologically is a huge tragedy, but I do not want the state to decide what I can and must do with my body. The state’s job is to inform me, duly and seriously, of the consequences of ingesting these substances. The responsibility for deciding whether or not I want to use them is mine.

2 Responses to “My body, my choice”

  1. Vicente 24 January 2012 at 7:06 pm Permalink

    An individual’s choice. I’m sure Thomas Jefferson would’ve agreed here.

  2. Vicente 24 January 2012 at 7:12 pm Permalink

    and I’m not trying to be sarcastic. It’s called liberalism.

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