Losely organized gangs of youths in heir teens and twenties are running multi-million-dollar businesses in North American cities. They're selling heroin, marijuana, PCP, hallucinogens, and, especially, crack cocaine. Gang leaders, some of whom deal directly with Columbian producers and smugglers, can buy a kilo of cocaine for $10,000. That kilo yields 10,000 bags of crack, and a bag of crack sells on the street for $25.
The profits are enormous, but so is the danger. In Los Angeles, which has thousands of gangs and an estimated 70,000 gang members, there were close to four hundred gang murders in 1987. Uzis, AK 47 assault rifles, and other military and paramilitary weapons are common in gang arsenals.
The drug gangs are thus often better financed than the police assigned to combat them. Law enforcement officials around the country are admitting that massive attempts to suppress the drug trade have been ineffective, and many experts are likening the rise of drug gangs to the rise of the Mafia during the Prohibition, the principal difference being that the Mafia was far less violent.
The comparison to Prohibition is telling, because it hints that officials don't believe suppression will ever work. The demand for illicit drugs today is as great as or greater than the demand for illicit alcohol during Prohibition, and history tells us that the smuggling of alcohol continued until Prohibition was repealed. So although no one has come right out and said it, the message is clear: the solution to the illegal drug trade may be to repeal drug prohibition and put drug sales under government control.
The repeal of Prohibition is not the only precedent for this kind of if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em course of action. The lotteries now promoted by many state governments were originally introduced, at least in part, as a solution to numbers rackets and other illegal gambling. Proceeds from state lotteries now go to worthy causes like medical care for the elderly and public education instead of into the pockets of criminals. So it could be argued that state-run drug sales would put violent gangs out of business, and that the proceeds from drug sales could go toward arming the police instead of the gangs.
Vedic authorities would agree that suppression alone is rarely successful. Because we are eternal souls, part of God, or Krsna, who is the supreme soul and the reservoir of pleasure, it is our nature to seek ever-increasing enjoyment. When, in illusion, we identify with our material bodies, which are only temporary vehicles for the soul, we mistakenly look for that unlimited pleasure in our bodies. To this end, the illusioned soul has among his tendencies a predilection for four kinds of bodily activities: intoxication, sex, meat eating, and gambling.
Because pleasure-seeking itself is impossible to suppress, the Vedic literature "legalizes" these four activities, though to a very limited degree. But because these apparently pleasurable pursuits put the soul further into bodily illusion, and thus further from the unlimited pleasures of self-realization, Vedic legalization should never be construed as encouragement or approval. On the contrary, so-called legalization is meant to restrict and ultimately eliminate the activity in question.
Giving even limited sanction to harmful activities is a dangerous business. The Srimad-Bhagavatam records that Narada, a great Vedic sage, strongly reprimanded Vyasadeva, the compiler of the Vedic literature, for giving too much attention to regulated, or legalized, sense enjoyment. Narada told Vyasadeva:
The people in general are naturally inclined to [bodily enjoyment], and you have encouraged them in that way in the name of religion. This is verily condemned and is quite unreasonable…. They will accept such activities in the name of religion and will hardly care for the prohibitions.
Legalization alone, whether by Vedic authority or by current state governments, is really no better than suppression alone, because in the long run legalization will be taken as a stamp of approval for activities that are in fact criminal. State lotteries may benefit schoolchildren and the elderly, but they also infect everyone, including schoolchildren and the elderly, with gambling fever. The legalization of drugs would cut the bottom out of the gang-based drug market, but could also create an Orwellian nightmare—an entire society in drugged stupor.
But although legalization of drugs would by itself spell government sponsored degradation, the principal culprit in such degradation would not be a demonic Big Brother state, as Orwell would have it, but rather our own extreme poverty of spiritual knowledge and spiritual pleasure. While reprimanding Vyasadeva, Narada further instructed him:
You have not actually broadcast the sublime and spotless glories of the Personality of Godhead. That philosophy which does not satisfy the transcendental senses of the Lord is worthless.
On the other hand, that literature which is full of descriptions of the transcendental glories of the … unlimited Supreme Lord [will bring about] a revolution in the impious lives of the world's misdirected civilization.
So according to Narada, the missing factor in both the prohibition and legalization of sense enjoyment is the glorification of the Supreme Lord, the satisfaction of His senses, which is the most pleasurable of all activities. Vyasadeva therefore responded to Narada's instructions by writing the Srimad-Bhagavatam, a work dedicated entirely to describing the glories of the Supreme Lord.
Vedic regulations, unlike current drug prohibition, are never meant as ends in themselves, but only as means to decrease our illusion and awaken us to higher spiritual pleasure. The Bhagavad–gita explains:
Though the embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, the taste for sense enjoyment remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.
We may impose restrictions on sense enjoyment, in this case on intoxication, but those restrictions do not dull our desire, or taste, for sense pleasure. Our desires are changed, revolutionized, only when we experience a higher taste.
That the higher taste exists in the practice of devotional service to Krsna is evident from the fact that thousands of Western Krsna conscious devotees easily accept the highest levels of Vedic regulations, which forbid intoxication of any sort, including even coffee, tea, or cigarettes. This is not a case of suppression. Devotees have experienced a superior pleasure and thus readily follow scriptural laws against intoxication to eliminate their former bad habits and increase their spiritual enjoyment.
But whether or not one accepts that Krsna consciousness is the higher taste, the principle remains that suppression of drugs is futile, and legalization harmful, if you have nothing better to offer. So you may prohibit or you may sanction, but to phase out drug use altogether, you have to offer drug users and dealers a superior form of enjoyment.