Pubdate: Mon, 03 Sep 2001
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2001 News World Communications, Inc.
Author: Robert Sharpe


According to your Aug. 21 article "Hutchinson takes over DEA, backs
Bush goals," former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, recently sworn in as head of
the Drug Enforcement Administration, fully supports President Bush's
balanced goals of aggressive law enforcement, increased treatment and
reduced demand. The approach is anything but balanced. Aggressive law
enforcement and increased drug treatment are mutually exclusive.

America's punitive approach to consensual vices compounds the drug
problem. Would alcoholics seek treatment for their illness if doing so
were tantamount to confessing to criminal activity? Politicians are
going to have to tone down the tough-on-drugs rhetoric. An arrest and
criminal record should not be a necessary prerequisite for drug treatment.

The United States recently earned the dubious distinction of having
the highest incarceration rate in the world, with drug offenses
accounting for the majority of federal incarcerations. This is big
government at its worst. At an average cost of $25,071 per inmate
annually, maintaining the world's largest prison system can hardly be
considered fiscally conservative.

The threat of prison that coerced treatment relies upon can backfire
when it's actually put to use. Prisons transmit violent habits and
values rather than reduce them. Most drug offenders are eventually
released, with dismal job prospects due to criminal records. Turning
nonviolent drug offenders into hardened criminals is a senseless waste
of tax dollars.

As for demand reduction, there is a glaring double standard in place.
Alcohol and tobacco are by far the two deadliest recreational drugs,
yet politicians do not make it their business to actively destroy the
lives of drinkers and smokers. It's time to declare peace in the
failed drug war and begin pursuing harm-reduction policies that
acknowledge the negative consequences of both drug use and drug

Program Officer,
The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation,
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