Pubdate: Thu, 17 Aug 2000
Source: Ithaca Journal, The (NY)
Copyright: 2000, The Ithaca Journal
Address: 123-127 W. State St., Ithaca, NY  14850
Author: Nicolas Eyle


We hear talk about America's "War on Drugs" constantly. Newspapers print
stories daily about the latest drug arrest. Neighborhood groups try to take
back the streets from the drug dealers. Police and politicians posture,
trying to sound as if victory was just around the corner. Well, that corner
is apparently a long way away, if it even exists. Americans have been
fighting this war, in basically the same way, for their whole lives. This
latest incarnation started in the early eighties. How are we doing?

* President Clinton spent more of our tax dollars on the drug war in two
years than the total spent on the drug war by presidents Reagan and Bush

* Incarceration for drug arrests has risen tenfold since 1981.

* The street price of heroin and cocaine is less than one-fourth of what it
was in 1981.

* The purity of heroin available on the street has increased more than
fourfold since 1981.

* The number of drug-overdose deaths has increased more than fivefold since

* The proportion of high school seniors reporting that drugs are readily
available has doubled since 1981.

Obviously something isn't working and that "something" is our drug policy.

Most western nations have come to the realization that some of its citizens
are going to use drugs and society's goal should be to see that this drug
use causes as little harm as possible to the rest of society. They regulate
the sale and possession of drugs. This, unlike our belief that if we get
tough and put enough people in jail and ruin as many lives as possible,
people will stop using, actually works. 

For example, conservative Switzerland took its hard-core heroin addict
population, addicts that have failed numerous treatment programs, and put
them on a supervised heroin maintenance program. The result? 
(a) The health of participants improved. 
(b) Illicit cocaine and heroin use declined greatly. 
(c) Housing situation improved and stabilized- most importantly there were
no longer any more homeless participants. 
(d) Fitness for work improved considerably, those with permanent employment
more than doubled from 14% to 32%. 
(e) The number of unemployed fell by half (from 44% to 20%) 
(f) A third of the patients that were on welfare left the welfare rolls.  
(g) More than half of the dropouts did so to switch to another form of
treatment, many to an abstinence-based program. 
(h) There were no overdoses from drugs prescribed by the program. 

Holland's police look the other way at hundreds of "coffee shops" that
openly sell marijuana and hashish to anyone over 16. Interestingly enough,
not only are these places orderly and well regulated, but, even though
anyone over 16 can purchase marijuana with impunity, their teenage marijuana
use rate is HALF what it is here.

Portugal, Spain, Italy and Germany have decriminalized personal possession
of drugs. Scotland wants to emulate the Dutch coffee house system. 

Why are all these countries moving in the opposite direction from the US?
Because they see the terrible problems drug prohibition has brought to
America. They see the approximately $110 Billion per year prohibition costs
Americans. They see our streets as some of most dangerous in the world. They
see that though America contains only one sixteenth of the world's
population it houses one quarter of the world's prisoners. They see the
corruption illegal drug money breeds. They see the disease prohibiting
syringes spreads. They see the patients suffering from being denied medicine
approved by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine. They see
families torn apart by draconian prison sentences. In short, they see
America being brought to her knees, not by drugs, but by drug prohibition. 

America had three choices as to whom to allow to control the market in
popular, potentially dangerous drugs. The government, private enterprise, or
organized crime.  By ignoring the lessons of history and choosing a system
of prohibition, they turned over control to the least suitable of the three
choices, organized crime. We need to wrest control from the criminal
syndicates and begin to regulate drugs in America. We need to start looking
openly at alternatives to prohibition. We need to reconsider our drug
policy. And we need to do it soon.

Nicolas Eyle is the executive director of ReconsiDer: forum on drug policy,
a non-profit, educational institution dedicated to the premise that our
current drug policy causes more harm than good and needs to be reconsidered.
They maintain a website at
- ---
MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk