Pubdate: Tue, 29 Jan2002
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2002, New Haven Register
Contact:  http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?brd=1281
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Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/decrim.htm (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/youth.htm (Youth)

STUDENTS HEAR LOGIC OF LEGAL DRUGS

BRANFORD -- Clifford Thornton has firsthand knowledge of the havoc drugs 
can cause: As a youth, he had to identify the body of his mother, who was 
found dead of a drug overdose in Hartford.

But Thornton has very unconventional views about what society needs to do 
to stop such tragedies -- views not traditionally part of a school assembly.

Thornton told a full auditorium at Branford High School Monday morning that 
he supports legalizing and regulating drugs.

"Drug use should be an issue of public health, not law enforcement," said 
Thornton.

"People ask me, 'Why would you want to legalize something that killed your 
mother.' It is drug prohibition that killed her."

Thornton is president of Efficacy, a Hartford-based, nonprofit, anti-drug 
organization.

Social studies teacher Kevin Grady said school officials invited Thornton 
to expose students to alternative ideas and perspectives concerning drugs. 
Students can "weigh those alternatives against official policies and come 
up with their own conclusions on what they feel should be done concerning 
this issue, both at home and abroad."

The head of the school's Parent Teacher Association, Janice Mendillo, said 
she was surprised administrators invited someone to talk about legalizing 
drugs without providing an alternative viewpoint.

Mendillo said she didn't know about nor attend the assembly.

"I am personally against the legalization of drugs of that type," said 
Mendillo. "I feel they should have had someone countering his opinion, like 
someone from law enforcement to give the opposing view. I think students 
can be easily influenced, and they should hear the other viewpoint."

After the talk, Thornton made it clear drug use is something Branford 
schools have to face. He said he could smell marijuana smoke in the high 
school's parking lot when he arrived Monday.

Last month, a Branford High School teacher was charged with running a 
marijuana factory at home.

Thornton said he has dedicated his life to ending drug prohibition. He 
argued that it creates problems like violence rather than stopping drug 
use. Addicts are forced into crime to pay black market prices on drugs, he 
said.

"Legalization of drugs would mean a decrease in murders and robberies," 
said Thornton. "Addicts wouldn't be driven to crime to maintain their habit."

Instead, Thornton told students, he'd like to see marijuana sold legally as 
are cigarettes or alcohol, also drugs. However, he said he'd like to see it 
taxed heavily.

He believes drugs such as cocaine and heroin should be regulated and 
controlled by the medical profession. The drugs could be made available 
with a doctor's prescription, he said.

But Thornton said driving under the influence of any of these substances 
should remain illegal.

"Some people say this idea of legalization is dangerous and radical," said 
Thornton. "It is drug prohibition that is the dangerous and radical 
experiment."

He stressed that he is not promoting drug use, then asked the students if 
they believe people will ever stop using drugs. The students said no.

"If people aren't going to stop using drugs, we need to create an 
atmosphere where there is the least amount of harm," said Thornton.

Some students cheered when Thornton offered the prospect of legal marijuana.

Sarah Tamulevich, a senior, said she thought the presentation was 
informative. "He gave a different point of view," she said. "This is the 
first time I've ever heard of it. It might work, if it were executed 
correctly."

Thornton has frequently spoken to groups of college students, but this was 
the first time he spoke to a large crowd of high school-age students.

"This is going to be your problem and you'll have to deal with it," he told 
the students.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager