Pubdate: Thu, 18 May 2000
Source: Virginian-Pilot (VA)
Copyright: 2000, The Virginian-Pilot
Author: Glenn Allen Scott


FBI agents last week charged three deputy sheriffs with conspiring to
smuggle marijuana to the federal-prisoner floor in Portsmouth City Jail.

The Associated Press reported shortly afterward that 10.5 percent of drug
tests administered to jail inmates in a nationwide study were positive.

The arrests of the Portsmouth deputies was a surprise. The statistic on the
outcome of drug testing of jail inmates less so.

The thought intrudes that any society unable to shut off the flow of
outlawed drugs to people behind bars hasn't a prayer of stemming the flood
of cocaine and heroin from abroad.

Oh, we can pour more billions -- and we are talking many, many billions --
into the drug war, with its emphasis on locking up offenders and throwing
away the key.

We can trace some of the billions of dollars fed into the global banking
system by drug lords.

We can eradicate coca fields in South America and blow up cocaine-production

But the trafficking in drugs will thrive.

So how best to manage the drug challenge, which is real, heaven knows? Many
drugs, legal and illegal, can be harmful. Crack cocaine is a horror, but it
is no longer popular. Crack got such a deservedly bad reputation that demand

Crack is still around. But the epidemic of usage and murderous crack-dealer
turf wars that raged in the 1980s is over. Both crack consumption and
conflict among the crack pushers compounded inner cities' woe.

Cocaine in powdered form is also dangerous, addictive and can kill. Heroin,

The alcohol challenge is real also. Alcohol is dangerous, addictive and can

But we deal with alcohol differently, in ways less injurious to individuals
and society than we deal with illicit drugs. Some day we will deal in less
injurious ways with several drugs now prohibited.

We have created a thick skein of regulation, education and 12-step and
counseling programs to limit alcohol damage. We must accelerate spending on
such strategies to diminish damage done by drugs.

Outlawing alcohol and drinking backfired as badly as flatly outlawing
selling and possessing specific drugs.

Ridding America of alcohol seemed to be a winning idea at the time -- the
late 19th and early 20th century.

Orgiastic drinking and drunkenness were common. Preachers in early America
were often paid in whisky. The three ritualistic drinks were the Eye Opener,
the High Nooner and the Sundowner. Saloons, especially in rural areas,
tended to be as sinister and as unsanitary as crack houses; centers of
violence, disease, vice.

Drinking devastated families, as it still does. Decent concern for the
health and welfare of women and children fueled the crusade against John
Barleycorn, the first great American social-reform movement. The Anti-Saloon
League became an irresistible political force.

Prohibitionist fervor crested during World War I, leading to a progressive
federal crackdown on alcohol and ratification of the 18th Amendment to the

The amendment prohibited manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating
liquors. The federal law spelling out enforcement measures defined
intoxicatants as beverages containing ``one half of one percentum or more of
alcohol by volume.'' Violations were punishable by fines up to $10,000 of
five years in prison or both.

But Prohibition birthed other evils: moonshining, bootlegging and
rum-running on a grand scale; the proliferation of criminal gangs;
corruption of police, judges and other officials; widespread -- indeed,
fashionable -- defiance of the drinking ban.

A disenchanted people repealed Prohibition in 1933. States were cut loose to
regulate alcohol sales. Some states chose to remain ``dry'' for decades --
sales of alcohol were illegal within their borders. Virginia opted for tight
regulation, selling bottled distilled spirits only through state stores and
forbidding liquor-by-the-drink sales until the latter half of the century.

Cocaine, heroin and marijuana were around then, but largely out of sight and
out of mind. The emergence of the 1960s ``drug culture'' panicked the
populace into another crusade, which grinds on. New York Gov. Nelson
Rockefeller and President Richard Nixon kicked off the crusade.

Drug-law violators and substance abusers have fattened the U.S. jail and
prison population -- now at 2 million. Nearly one fourth of state prisoners
and three-fifths of federal prisoners are locked up because of drug-law

While the incarcerated population is at a record high, the
hard-core-drug-addict population is more or less constant and the reduction
in casual drug use appears to be marginal.

We could achieve the same or better results by embracing strategies that
don't enrich drug lords, promote violence, corrupt law enforcement and
banking, destabilize governments and perpetuate the prison-building boom.
Prohibition Era history suggests we will.
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