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Response to Satell's guest commentary

In his guest commentary yesterday, Cliff Satell took issue with my argument on the consequences of individual drug use, making the case that Latin American casualties of the drug war die from "bullets...not weed."

But Satell simply ignores how drug cartels obtain their bullets. It is precisely because Americans buy Latin American drugs that cartels have the resources to purchase weapons and fund their organizations.

Well, some pot is produced in the U.S., he responds, and therefore its use does not support cartels. However, the nature of distribution networks is such that drugs have changed hands several times before they reach their ultimate consumer.  There is basically no way for drug users buying off the street to know exactly where their fix is coming from.

Then, Satell contends that demand is infinite and suggests that therefore efforts to curb marijuana demand can only be limitedly effective. Satell then argues that since one individual drug user's choice to discontinue use will not end the drug trade, the decision of whether or not to use pot has no moral dimension.

I am actually fairly sympathetic to the former position, but it's hard to know where to begin in refuting the latter one. The difficulty of getting individuals to stop using drugs does not absolve those individuals of the moral consequences of their actions. The implication of Satell's view is that individuals never have any ethical responsibilities based on the social consequences of their actions because of the collective action problem. By that logic, Duke should never have divested from Sudan in 2007. I'd suggest, instead, that supporting drug cartels in any way, even if that means sending them cents on the dollar, is something students should feel conscientious about, given the sheer brutality of the crimes cartels commit.

Moreover, many seem to have either misread or misunderstood the view I expressed in my initial column regarding legalization. I explicitly stated that "debates over legalization of drugs are legitimate and have a place in the public discourse," so to suggest that I am ignoring the legalization issue is flatly inaccurate.

However, the key point, as I noted before, is that these debates have no logical bearing on the ethics of current recreational marijuana use. A defense of the ethics of an action cannot rest wholly on the contingencies of an alternate universe. Whether or not legalization would eliminate the market for pot distributed by drug cartels tomorrow is irrelevant to the ethics of using marijuana today.

The bottom line is that marijuana is illegal now and drugs from those cartels are a real and substantial part of the U.S. market. When students choose to use drugs, there is a tremendous likelihood some portion of the money they spend will find its way back to some truly brutal murderers operating South of the border. These are facts. When drug users choose to ignore them, they do so not at their own risk, but at the risk of innocent people far away. Duke students should consider carefully whether they are comfortable with that.


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