The legalization of sex, drugs, and gambling would help remedy these industries by bringing them into the spotlight, Tom Matlack argues.
Priests can’t have sex, but the Church—and law enforcement—has allowed pedophilia to run rampant for years (First One to Come Forward). Apparently the only place it every happened is Happy Valley (Look in the Mirror).
Strip clubs are legal, but if you are going to serve drinks, you can only be topless (Inside a Strip Club). The most explicit sexual acts are OK on the web as long as they don’t involve a minor. The states with the highest pornography consumption are the most religiously conservative: Utah and the Bible Belt. Meanwhile, the federal government has decided to invoke the 13th amendment to the Constitution and deploy Homeland Security resources to fight sex slavery .
Alcohol and cigarettes kill significantly more Americans than all other drugs combined. Yet they are legal, and the “bad” drugs are illegal. The demand for illegal drugs in the United States is ripping Mexico apart as rival cartels kill each other for a share of the enormous black market.
For many minorities in our inner cities, the only realistic way to make a living is to participate in the distribution of drugs (Blood Splattered). Because it is illegal, this requires gang-style violence to enforce selling territories and selling relationships. Drugs dominate not just the lives of our most vulnerable citizens, but the economies of their communities as well. It’s mob-style abolition on a massive scale.
A long time ago we stole the land of the Native Americans. We used guns, a concept of property that was foreign to them, and sometimes even spread disease in their midst with the intent to kill them off. To make up for this immoral behavior, we have allowed a certain few Native Americans have a monopoly on gambling casinos.
State governments have long used lotteries to raise much needed money. This has been proven to be a regressive form of taxation. But now with state budgets in disarray, lawmakers are looking to increase gambling as a last resort. In my home state of Massachusetts, we have been debating slots forever and have now passed a law approving new Vegas-style casinos.
The United States government is very good at auctioning off licenses. Since 1994, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has conducted auctions of licenses for the electromagnetic spectrum. The government has raised billions of dollars to grant the rights to the airwaves to private communications companies. Why not do the same thing for the supposed vices that are tearing our country apart?
Here’s how it would work. Each state would be granted the right to sell off licenses to particular forms of prostitution, gambling, and drug distribution. Massachusetts might decide they want two statewide providers of legalized cocaine and city-by-city prostitution licensing. Bidders would not only propose a license purchase price but also detail a process by which they would manage, monitor, and keep control over the business once it’s established.
From the government standpoint, we would receive substantial upfront payment from selling all these licenses. We’d then have the right to tax all these vices heavily, to make them somewhat less attractive and continue to generate much needed revenue. And we would have the ability to regulate, making sure that women in the sex trade are not exploited, that drug dosing is uniform with no foreign substance, and that gambling is fair.
This change in strategy would produce two much needed consequences.
First, it would allow us to take the prevalence of drugs, gambling, and sex out of the darkness and bring it into the light for all to see. Think of what has happened to the tobacco industry in this country. We didn’t outlaw it. We sued the companies for killing people and lying about it, and we made it uncool to smoke through large ad campaigns and banning it in public places like bars and restaurants.
Every drug container would have a warning label outlining the risks of using that substance. We’d finally get clear on what drugs have what scientific impacts on the human body and make that public knowledge. For every form of gambling, we would advertise, in bold letters, the exact odds of winning and losing, making clear you have to be an idiot to play. And we could finally start advertising the actual statistics about what is going on in the sex trade from pornography to strip clubs to prostitution. It wouldn’t be made illegal, but we’d finally begin to deal with its influence on our society.
The second major change would be to move from criminal to civil prosecution of cases involving vices. With licenses bought for large sums by established private companies, their right would be to police against anyone selling their product without a license. What before was a criminal matter would become purely economic with private companies suing anyone infringing on their rights just the way a patent holder might bring suit against a rival for using their intellectual property.
We’d finally stop putting so many minority men away in prison for becoming the foot soldiers in the illegal distribution of narcotics. Abolition didn’t work with booze, and it sure isn’t working with drugs. Booze may have bred the mob, but drugs have come to dominate manhood in our inner cities, and threatens to take down the whole of Mexico.
Some might argue that legalizing drugs, sex, and gambling would make it more available and, therefore, increase the prevalence of these vices in our society. Just on first blush, I find it hard to believe that drugs, sex, and gambling could be any MORE dominant than they already are. Every state government is talking about opening casinos and expanding the lotto to pay their bills. Porn and the sex trade have become the biggest single entertainment industry. Drugs are arguably ruining our country as it is, both from use and by imprisoning so many men who might otherwise be useful members of our society.
These problems exist and are getting worse. We should legalize them, so we can actually get a grasp and start to make sense of it all, eliminating the dark underbelly, getting children out of prostitution and drugs out of our poorest communities.
We need to get radically honest about the impact of these vices on our people. Stop the hypocrisy of gambling under only certain nonsensical conditions that prey on the poor. Regulate and systematize the narcotic industry so we can focus on education and treatment rather than throwing away a whole generation. And finally, stop talking about sexual exploitation like it never happens when it’s actually omni-present.
Do you have a better idea?
—Photo Samantha Jade Royds/Flickr