Pubdate: Wed, 19 Jul 2000
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2000 The Sun-Times Co.
Contact:  401 N. Wabash, Chicago IL 60611


Every so often the topic of decriminalizing drugs surfaces, only to be
squashed by fears that the proposal is too controversial to merit serious

In 1995, Criminal Court Judge Richard E. Neville stirred quite a debate
among law enforcement officials when he advocated legalizing drugs and
challenged lawmakers to have a dialogue on this issue. At the time, he and
other supporters argued that removing drugs from the street trade would
reduce violence. James E. Gierach, a lawyer who once ran for Cook County
state's attorney, also has advocated an end to the drug war, which,
according to the Human Rights Watch, has resulted in a racial disparity in
sentences for drug crimes.

Given that the skyrocketing prison population and the continued street
violence related to gang and drug wars affect African Americans
disproportionately, it is entirely fitting that a discussion of
decriminalizing drugs should be on the agenda at the anti-violence summit of
African American leaders that Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) has scheduled for

For a politician to express any support for legalizing drugs carries a
political risk since opponents later could accuse him of being soft on
crime. And to be clear, Rush is not advocating legalization; rather, he
correctly observes that there should at least be discussion on the drug
trade and violence. Rush also intends to take a look at the Prohibition
experience to see if it is relevant to the drug issue. Indeed, now may be
the right time to tackle this issue. The judicial system has softened its
stance. For example, more court systems are choosing to divert those
convicted on minor drug offenses to special drug courts, where they are
monitored while they receive substance abuse treatment instead of being sent
to prison.

There are many options between strict enforcement of the current drug laws
and decriminalization, but in order to determine whether there is a better
strategy for combatting illegal drug trafficking, the pros and cons of
decriminalizing drugs have to be debated in an open forum. Hopefully, the
leadership summit can help spark this debate as participants look for ways
to significantly reduce black-on-black violence. This is just one issue that
will be on the agenda. Rush is to be commended for calling this meeting to
address the violence continuing to plague too many neighborhoods.
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