Don’t let Whitney Houston become the next Len Bias

To sports fans, Len Bias was a college basketball star who died too young of a drug overdose, a symbol of what might have been. To those of us who oppose the War on Drugs, however, Len Bias is a symbol that was exploited and abused by posturing politicians, resulting in the passage of the “Len Bias Law,” also known as the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.

It was among the very worst legislative excesses in the war on drugs, specifying mandatory minimums, asset forfeiture, and the infamous 100-to-1 weight ratio in sentencing for crack cocaine. Pete Guither describes it, with only a little hyperbole, as a “near-genocidal attack on the African American population in the United States. Or at the very least, the systematic disenfranchisement of African American males.”

Bias was pretty much the worst case, but celebrity deaths are often a seed for sowing moral panic that destroys freedom. There was a small anti-drug panic following the deaths of John Belushi and Chris Farley. The death of Princess Diana in a car crash caused an anti-paparazzi frenzy that threatened freedom of the press for fandom and traditional news reporters.

So now that Whitney Houston has died, and even though the medical examiner’s report isn’t in yet, people are attributing her death to her reputed heavy use of illegal drugs. And over at Jack Marshall’s Ethics Alarms, the moralizing has begun:

That she didn’t say no to drugs, and is dead because of it, was the direct result of an American culture that does not give its constituency a clear message and verdict. Instead, the clearest and most unequivocal signal from the culture, the fact that recreational drugs are illegal and that America enforces the laws against them, is progressively weakened by ridicule, attack, popular culture, and the defiance or hypocrisy of role models and public figures.

Oh good God. Apparently it’s not enough that these drugs are illegal in every state and at the national level, that the War on Drugs costs billions of dollars a year, that armed police are invading people’s homes, that the Fourth Amendment has been gutted, and that hundreds of thousands of people are arrested every year. No, Jack won’t be happy unless we unless we also say we love it.

Whether they are preventing the culture from rejecting drug use because enforcement is expensive, or because they have a relative or friend in prison for drug-dealing; whether they are calling for legalization because they are libertarians and academics or Ron Paul, or because they are public officials who see a new revenue source; whether they are longing for the halcyon days of Haight-Ashbury and the Strawberry Alarm Clock,  or just like getting stoned, these are the people that killed Whitney Houston, as surely as if they had shot her between the eyes.

Screw you, Jack. The only person who killed Whitney Houston is Whitney Houston.

I would say that if their insistence on legalization is followed, and the nation’s laws join the popular throng in pronouncing addictive and life-destroying drugs as legitimate “options,” many more like her will die…except there aren’t many more like her. But there are countless lives to destroy, and unimaginable losses to families, businesses and America to be endured.

I guess he prefers the current system, in which we destroy lives and families by throwing drug users in prison. I wonder how many Americans never got to fulfill their promise because they got thrown in jail first.

This time, let’s not pass any more laws. Let’s not turn a tragedy into an atrocity.

About Mark:
Mark is a computer programmer, website builder, photographer, and sometimes journalist in Chicago, where he also writes the long-running Windypundit blog.
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  1. Posted February 13, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I suppose this is what passes for an argument in the “let’s make sure we have as much societal wreckage from drug abuse as possible” camp.

    “Moralizing” is a pejorative way of suggesting that distinguishing between right and wrong is offensive, as if we should just stumble around doing harm without stopping to consider what works and what doesn’t. As for saying only Whitney is responsible for killing Whitney, that may be literally true, but utter nonsense all the same. Family, friends, parents, peers, media, leaders, role models, laws, traditions and culture all have powerful influences over our beliefs, taboos, impulses, desires and conduct—maybe a Whitney Houston raised in an earlier era where drug use wasn’t promoted as “cool” would have kept singing into her 70s, or maybe she would have died like Billy Holiday, but to pretend he culture—and drug advocates like you—didn’t have an influence is nothing short of denial.
    Best of all is the “nobody’s hurt” canard. Whitney’s daughter is hurt. Her fans are hurt. The world of music is hurt. And who knows how many associates, business partners and others were hurt by Whitney when she was under the influence of drugs, except that it’s fair to say, “a lot.” Drug use is not a victimless crime, just as alcoholism is not a victimless crime, and just repeating a lie as cant do not an argument, just a way of getting gullible people to nod their heads as they toke up.

    • Posted February 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      We should, of course, guide our behavior with moral analysis. But there’s a huge gulf between making the moral determination that it’s wrong to destroy yourself by abusing illicit drugs and making the policy decision that that we should employ tens of thousands of armed government agents to stop such abuse through violent force.

      From a policy point of view, I think it’s dangerous to attribute Houston’s death to anyone who wasn’t directly involved, but for the sake of argument, let’s accept your argument that cultural influences count. I’m willing to accept that by advocating legalization of drugs, I’m contributing to an environment in which people with self-destructive tendencies may be more likely to harm or kill themselves.

      Now you need to accept that by supporting the drug war you are contributing to a culture of disrespect for the Fourth Amendment, militarized police home-invasion squads that frighten, abuse, and sometime kill people and their pets, the abuses of the asset forfeiture system in which police departments pad their budgets by stealing cars and homes from people they accuse of selling drugs, the utter breakdown of trust between police and residents in the inner city, the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of people every year, the tens of thousands dead in the Mexican drug wars, the thousands of suffering sick people who can’t get the pain medication they need, the expulsion of international travelers who might at one time have smoked pot, the general disrespect of personal freedom by law enforcement, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and everyone on this page.

      As for your list of victims, nobody is saying that using illicit drugs should be a license to behave like a jerk. If Houston owned a dog, and she ordered that dog to attack people, she would be guilty of a crime. But would you say she’d proven that dog ownership was not victimless?

    • Malcolm Kyle
      Posted February 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Jack Marshall, you are an unashamed supporter of the longest, most costly, and most futile war in American history. The prejudices and fears that you exhibit bear scant relation to reality. As a self-appointed hypocritical moralist you have aligned yourself with terrorists, criminals and all the other scum of the earth – such as political demagogues, corrupt government agencies, fear-mongering, soulless media moguls, and all other forces of ignorance and arrogance.

      Jack, how is it even possible that you fail to understand that prohibition – just like it’s counter-part in the 1920s – has created massive amounts of destruction to all aspects of our society?

      How can you not desire a saner policy, one that’s based on facts rather than reefer madness?

      And how dare you refuse to help undo the massive amount of damage caused by this dangerous and failed policy?

      Jack, your beloved Prohibition has finally run it’s course. The lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans have been destroyed or severely disrupted, and what was once a shining beacon of liberty and prosperity has become a toxic, repressive, smoldering heap of hypocrisy and a gross affront to fundamental human decency.

      Do you honestly believe that the rest of us are willing to sacrifice even more of our precious hard-earned tax dollars and civil liberties on this pointless exercise of whacking ourselves with ever-bigger and more-repressive prohibition hammers while drug use and availability keeps going up, not down, and while we all plunge deeper into Loserville?

      Find yourself another lost cause, Jack Marshall, and preferably one which won’t put the rest of us in harms way like this one does!

    • free radical
      Posted February 14, 2012 at 12:11 am | Permalink

      What’s up, jackie? Can’t debate for crap so you ban people from commenting? Way to prove yourself totally irrelevant. Merry Arbor Day to you, sir.

    • Posted February 14, 2012 at 2:17 am | Permalink
    • Duncan20903
      Posted February 14, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      “Never let the facts get in the way of disseminating and effective piece of hysterical rhetoric”

      ~~The motto of the Know Nothing prohibitionist

  2. Rogier
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink


    The drugs you hate are already illegal in every single state. What more do you want?

    How many millions of people do you suppose are “hurt” not primarily, or not at all, by the drugs they consume, but by the way that law enforcement and the judicial system comes down on them like the proverbial ton of bricks, destroying careers, families, and communities?

    In large part thanks to the drug war, the United States has five percent of the world’s population and roughly twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners. So are we somehow a much more wicked, diseased, and dangerous people than any other population on the planet? Or would the stunning prison statistics have something to do with an approach to illicit drugs that is not, in fact, working nearly as well as you make it out to be?

    Oh, that’s right, you think the system isn’t working well enough, because “American culture does not give its constituency a clear message and verdict.” What does that mean (apart from the fact that I don’t know how a “culture” can have a “constituency”)?

    Does it mean that we need to further escalate the drug war? Would that do it for you, Jack? Strangely enough, we’ve not wiped drugs from our fair land since we started applying the still-prevalent draconian, hard-edged, ton-of-bricks method more than eighty years ago, when the first drug czar, Harry Anslinger, rode into Washington.

    Or does it mean that Mark and I and millions more like us should stop talking about solutions that do not involve more SWAT teams, more bloodshed, and more prisons?

    And speaking of the 1920s, you are familiar with the history of alcohol prohibition, are you not? You do understand that prohibition creates black markets which attract criminal gangs that drive up violence and murder and corruption, correct? Hey, you know who else understood that? Congress, which by 1933 had turned so ashen and shocked by the unintended but predictable effects of the alcohol-banning Eighteenth Amendment it had passed in 1920, that those same lawmakers repealed prohibition en masse, to the great relief of Americans everywhere, drinkers and non-drinkers alike.

    You say that drugs cause self-destruction, and ruin too many lives of users and the people who love them. Aye, that they do (although you’ll never read in the papers about the millions of recreational users who didn’t overdose the day before). Anyway, yup, drugs can kill. And so can alcohol, Jack. That doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority of people enjoy beer or wine or liquor without falling into addiction and squalor, and without ultimately damaging/killing themselves. Do you want to re-classify the pleasure-seeking of beer-drinkers and wine connoisseurs as a crime? Shall we go back to full-on alcohol prohibition? If not, what is your rationale for insisting that alcohol’s OK, but all other recreational drugs must stay illegal and their users publicly reviled, mercilessly prosecuted, and imprisoned at rates the world has never seen?

    Insanity, as you know, is repeating the same action over and over while expecting different results. That’s drug prohibition to a T (I think T stands for Total War). We’ve tried it the drug warriors’ way for the better part of a century. It’s beyond time that we now do something more rational that, however counterintuitive it may seem to you, arguably stands a much better chance of working in reducing the number of deaths as well as the assaults on our liberty.

  3. Chris
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    “Moralizing” is a pejorative way of suggesting that distinguishing between right and wrong is offensive,

    I don’t follow your reasoning, probably because you’re taking something that is offensive to yourself and claiming that it is right and other options are wrong. That’s moralizing. I’m moralizing as well by positing that what you consider right (prohibition) is extremely destructive and absolutely unquestionably evil.

  4. Malcolm Kyle
    Posted February 18, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    to jackmarshallize

    (verb) to write, pontificate or act in such a manner that resembles unconscionable, sadomoralistic douchebaggerry of the very highest order.

    Jack Marshall is a self-proclaimed champion of ethics, but he is actually just a lawyer who is invariably very rude, dismissive and intimidating.

    In attempting to defend the indefensible (most often his beloved policy of drug prohibition) he does so mainly from the power of his own extreme prejudicial convictions – by blatantly ignoring fact and historical precedent he has achieved the highest form of cognitive dissonance and suffocating bigotry.

    Mr Marshall’s convictions are most definitely not based upon the ethics he purports to champion, but are the ‘ethics’ of utter malice towards all who dare to disagree with his particular form of stifling, authoritarian hypocrisy.

    TAGS: unconscionable, unethical, prohibitionist, hypocrite, right-wing, bully,