Pubdate: Thu, 26 Apr 2001
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2001 Houston Chronicle
Author: Thom Marshall,


Words intended to mean one thing when leaving your mouth can mean
something completely different upon entering the ear of another.

Saying what you mean in such a way that others will not misunderstand
you is the great challenge in most any type of discussion, debate or
negotiation. I wish I could remember who provided an illustration of
this many years ago by pointing out that a fellow might intend to convey
a romantic message meaning: "When I look at you, time stands still." But
if what the listener understands is, "Your face would stop a clock,"
there obviously was a major problem with word choice creating a
definition gap between intention and understanding.

The word-choice topic came up in a dinner conversation Tuesday, when a
California judge met with a handful of Texas people who share his
interest in changing the nation's drug policy. Judge James Gray came to
Houston to speak at a luncheon Thursday sponsored by the Drug Policy
Forum of Texas. He is the author of a new book: Why Our Drug Laws Have
Failed and What We Can Do About It.

Regulating Isn't Legalizing:

Gray said he avoids choosing and using the word "legalize" in connection
with drug-policy reforms. What he is working toward, he said, is

Gray first went public in 1992 as a critic of the nation's war on drugs
because, he said, he had seen firsthand and up close how the drug laws
have failed, how they waste tax dollars, increase crime and despair, and
harm so many lives unnecessarily.

He said at that time that he predicted a major turnaround in drug policy
- -- an end to the war on drugs -- by the year 2000. He admits he was off
on that guess, but based upon recent developments and the rapidly
increasing support for policy change, he believes it could happen in
another two or three years.

One of the folks at that Tuesday dinner said that when he uses the word
"legalize" when talking about drugs, he is proposing that they be
treated like alcohol, which once also was illegal.

The problem with that, Gray explained, is that alcohol still is not
legal in many instances. There are many places where buying it, selling
it or consuming it are illegal for anyone. It is illegal for anyone
underage to buy it or consume it. It is illegal to sell it at certain
times. It is illegal to produce it or sell it without the licenses and
permits. It is illegal to buy it without paying the taxes on it.

Many people hear "legalize" and they believe that to mean drugs would be
readily available to everyone. Alcohol is regulated. And under potential
policy changes favored by Gray and many others who want to see an end to
the war, other drugs also would be regulated.

He does not claim that regulating drugs would make them impossible for
kids to get. After all, teen-agers can get booze today, just as the
judge and others of us middle-age folks could get it when we were teens.

But kids have to go to some effort to obtain alcohol, due to the ways it
is regulated. Illegal drugs are easier to get, Gray said. Illegal drugs
come looking for the kids, and there is a plentiful supply despite years
of the best efforts of those fighting the costly but ineffective drug

Ill-Defined Words Stall Progress:

So Gray said he is for changing laws so that the currently illegal drugs
could be regulated.

In his book, he calls it a "major pitfall in the discussion of our
current drug policy and alternative options" that terms are not
carefully defined by those who use them.

"It is, regrettably, very common for one person not to know what another
person is talking about, which naturally leads to a great deal of
miscommunication and misunderstanding," he wrote. "If everyone would
take care to define their terms, we would make a lot more progress."

He believes progress is inevitable.

"Our country will someday change to a materially different drug policy,"
he said, also predicting that "we will look back in astonishment that we
allowed our former policy to persist for so long, much as we look back
now at slavery."
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