Pubdate: Sat, 23 Sep 2000
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2000, Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Jay McCloskey
Note: Jay McCloskey is the U.S. attorney for Maine.


Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico told reporters last year that he would 
legalize marijuana and heroin. Gov. Johnson's comments continue to make 
waves; he was lauded in Matthew Miller's column (BDN, Aug. 23) and was the 
subject of a recent New York Times Magazine story (Aug. 20).

Gov. Johnson argues that the "war against drugs" is a failure because we 
spend a fortune on drug control yet drugs are still available and 80 
million Americans have tried them. He points out that we're spending huge 
amounts of money incarcerating marijuana users. Gov. Johnson's solution is 
to stop getting tough with drugs and legalize them.

I fundamentally disagree with Gov. Johnson's belief that drugs should be 
legalized, and I think his argument is logically flawed. I agree with Gov. 
Johnson that we need to devote more resources toward prevention, education 
and treatment, and I agree that jailing marijuana users is an ineffective 
use of resources. But I think it would be a grave mistake to legalize any 
more drugs.

Legalization advocates point out that 450,000 people died last year from 
smoking cigarettes, 150,000 died as a consequence of drinking alcohol, and 
100,000 died from legal prescription drugs, but few if any died from 
marijuana and only 5,000 died from cocaine and heroin. But these statistics 
are strong support for keeping marijuana, cocaine and heroin illegal.

Cigarettes and alcohol are Exhibits A and B in the case against 
legalization. Some 50 million Americans are addicted to cigarettes and 28 
million Americans have alcohol problems. These problems cost our society 
roughly $220 billion each year. Among young people, 90 percent have used 
cigarettes or alcohol.

The linchpin in drug use theory is availability. Around 60 percent of our 
young people have used marijuana. If we were to make a drug like marijuana 
legally available, as cigarettes and alcohol are, we could expect to see 
use rates rise to climb to about 90 percent.

Legalization advocates incorrectly claim that marijuana is a harmless drug. 
First, marijuana (like cigarettes and alcohol) is considered a gateway 
drug. People addicted to drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and 
hallucinogens almost always started with cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana 
before they "advanced" to harder drugs. Second, even if users did stop at 
marijuana, it is simply not a harmless drug. In the 1990s we spent an 
extraordinary amount of money educating people about the harmful health 
effects of smoking. We have severely penalized the tobacco industry for 
pushing cigarettes on people, and we are beginning to make that industry 
accountable for the harm it has done. How ironic that we rail against the 
evils of tobacco and at the same time consider legalization of marijuana, 
which produces similar, if not worse, carcinogenic and other adverse health 

Fortunately, Gov. Johnson has backed off his initial call to legalize 
heroin. Making heroin more widely available would have devastating 
consequences to our society. Cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana are not 
immediately addictive to most people and the health consequences associated 
with them are often chronic, not instantaneous. Heroin is highly addictive, 
and, all too often, lethal.

Many people have asked me recently why I feel so strongly about drugs. The 
answer is that I have seen  up close and too many times  the devastating 
consequences that drugs have on the people who use them and on their 
families. The short and simple answer to legalization is that we have 
enough problems with cigarettes and alcohol. Let's not compound our 
problems and legalize any more drugs.
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