Pubdate: Fri, 29 Sep 2000
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2000, Bangor Daily News Inc.
Contact:  http://www.bangornews.com/
Author: David T. Wilkinson
Note: David T. Wilkinson of Bethesda, Md., is a former Maine resident,
a Bowdoin College alumnus and reform activist.
Related: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v00/n1422/a10.html
Maine clippings http://www.mapinc.org/states/me.htm

DRUG WAR UNWINNABLE WITHOUT LEGALIZATION

Jay McCloskey, a lawyer trained to find fact, lets his emotions carry away 
his brain in his column, "Making the case against legalization" (BDN, Sept. 
23-24).

Does he remember a time when Maine, along with nine other states, 
decriminalized marijuana possession back in the '70s? At the time this 
reform was considered "tantamount to legalization" and was predicted to 
produce a veritable drug orgy. After all, you could own an ounce of the 
stuff and worry about nothing more than a $100 fine. That was hardly 
considered to be a deterrent against jaywalking, let alone the irresistible 
addictiveness of the evil weed.

But marijuana use did not go up, either among youth or adults, in any of 
the states which decriminalzed. Nor were there any of the mass migrations 
of marijuana users, also predicted by the McCloskeys of that time, to 
states which offered a safe haven to depravity.

Holland, which made cannabis products virtually  but not officially - 
legal back in the '70s, boasts drug use rates among its teen-agers that are 
a small fraction of U.S. rates. More than this, crime and incarceration 
rates are also well below ours. Switzerland, Spain, Italy and other 
countries have also decriminalized marijuana and other drugs without the 
McCloskey scenario of "90 percent" drug use rates.

What causes the cognitive dissonance here is the fact that prohibition 
itself  the law  is the real reason behind most of the ills, including 
"the devastating consequences that drugs have on the people who use them 
and on their families," which the law ascribes to drugs. Even the 
well-intentioned D.A.R.E. program has been shown in study after study to 
increase drug use among its graduates. Blinded by our outrage, we have for 
generations woven the enemy out of our own faith in the force of law as 
remedy for all ills.

We pretend that the drug war is different from alcohol prohibition and so 
refuse to learn the obvious lessons of history. The results fly in the face 
of our attempts to beat, shoot, propagandize and jail the drug problem out 
of our lives. We have been getting tougher on drugs for 100 years, and the 
drugs just get tougher.

In a familiar story of Drug War America, last week an 11-year-old child was 
shot in San Diego by no-knock, hair-triggered police. The 41 shots New York 
police made into an unarmed man they had approached with the intent of 
setting him up as a marijuana dealer have become legend sung by Bruce 
Springsteen.

How can this carnage possibly be better than the effective policy of "harm 
reduction," which our European neighbors have shown actually reduces drug 
use rates?

Perhaps another reason for cognitive dissonance is the fact that McCloskey 
makes his living from a system that depends on the drug war. Remove 
marijuana prosecutions as alcohol prosecutions were removed in 1933, and 
the Department of Justice would be closing down 75 percent of its offices 
and letting go of 75 percent of its employees. The drug war is a major 
vested interest. In California, the largest contributor to political 
campaigns is the prison guards' union.

This huge flow of federal drug war dollars is the most addictive substance 
of all. It makes all those charts and paid expert reports seem to make 
sense even when obvious facts contradict them.

Supply follows demand, legal or not. If you want to control something, you 
don't turn it over to gangsters. By funding the criminals, the law has 
turned the world into a vast 1920s Chicago.

It is in the case for legalization that alcohol and tobacco are exhibits A 
and B. They are much more toxic and addictive than marijuana, which has 
never caused a recorded medical death and is rated below caffeine by 
addiction experts. But at least we do not have alcohol and tobacco 
gangsters selling these products in schoolyards, nor are people dying in 
turf wars or police raids.

McCloskey is still struggling with the devastating truth that is barely 
starting to hit America, that the "solution" is actually most of the 
problem with respect to marijuana. Holding up such paper-thin premises as 
"we could expect to see use rates rise to climb to about 90 percent" shows 
just how close the truth has finally come.
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