Pubdate: Thu, 04 Apr 2002
Source: Hartford Courant (CT)
Copyright: 2002 The Hartford Courant
Author: Tom Condon
Cited: (Drug Policy Alliance)
Cited: (Efficacy)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


"Victory!" began the electronic press release earlier this week. "America 
Now Drug-Free After 30 Years of Domestic and International Drug War."

It went on to describe how America unexpectedly won the war on drugs in 
2002, as House Republicans promised in 1998.

This was a sardonic April Fools missive, from the New York-based Drug 
Policy Alliance. The truth, as the Alliance was quick to point out, is that 
the war on drugs is still a hugely expensive, counterproductive fiasco, an 
"international disgrace," in the phrase of Alliance director Ethan Nadelman.

When do we look in the mirror?

Though the federal anti-drug budget has doubled to almost $20 billion in 
the past decade, the number of teenagers graduating from high school who've 
tried illegal drugs is up by 25 percent. The prisons are still jammed with 
more than 2 million Americans, an incarceration rate six times that of our 
nearest Western colleagues. Urban neighborhoods are still war zones, 
organized crime flourishes, foreign governments are still being corrupted.

When exactly are we in Connecticut going to smarten up?

When another 7-year-old girl gets shot in the face? When another kindly and 
beloved 76-year-old store owner is shot and killed? When we have to lay out 
another $1 billion for more prisons?

When does someone in power find the courage to state the obvious: that what 
we've been doing isn't working and we need to try something else?

The New York Times and other news outlets reported earlier this week that 
U.S. officials have given up on reducing Afghanistan's opium production 
this year and are expecting a harvest that will flood the world's drug 
markets with cheap heroin. Just what Hartford needs.

If history is any lesson, our response will have mostly to do with 
disrupting supply, and little to do with reducing demand. We have it 
backward, which is why we lost the war on drugs.

Does this mean I'm for legalization? you might now ask.

Wrong question. Legal versus illegal doesn't frame the issue properly. 
Let's instead talk about useful versus not useful, and then get to the 
question of legality.

What the country desperately needs to do with street drugs is to take the 
profit out of them.

Until we do, said Clifford Thornton, "we're just a dog chasing its tail."

Thornton, of Hartford, heads a nonprofit group called Efficacy, which 
advocates drug policy reform. A SNET retiree, Thornton said he got 
interested in drug policy when he and his wife did a public affairs show on 
the subject for WWUH, the University of Hartford's radio station.

He said he couldn't believe the economics of the drug world, that billions 
of dollars were being spent while cities such as Hartford continued to be 
ravaged. He came to believe, as such luminaries as economist Milton 
Friedman, former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Surgeon 
General Jocelyn Elders do, that the war on drugs was causing more trouble 
than the problem it was intended to solve.

Thornton advocates legalization of marijuana and medicalization of heroin 
and cocaine.

Marijuana certainly should be available for medicinal purposes. If its 
general use were treated like tobacco and alcohol, we'd at least get the 
drug dealers out of it and could treat it as a public health problem 
instead of a crime.

This would mean we'd tolerate the possession of small amounts of pot for 
personal use while aggressively educating kids about the risks of substance 
abuse. I don't think kids should be smoking anything. I also don't think 
they should go to jail if they do.

Heroin and cocaine shouldn't be legal, but they wouldn't have to be. The 
medicalization program would function as methadone clinics do. An addict 
would register at a clinic and report there as often as was necessary. He 
or she would get their drugs and take them. Treatment would be available on 
demand. Each addict, it is hoped, would engage in a treatment program that 
would gradually wean them off the narcotic.

This is what Thornton calls "the real work." But though it is difficult, it 
can be done and is worth doing. It saves lives. It saves money.

A well-known 1994 study by the RAND Corp. found that treatment is 10 times 
more cost effective than interdiction in reducing the use of cocaine in the 
United States and that every dollar invested in treatment saves taxpayers 
$7.46 in societal costs such as police, prisons and medical services.

It could also save the cities. It's tragic when someone makes it through 
treatment, then goes back to the same drug-addled environment he came from 
and falls back into the drug life. But take the profit out of the drug 
trade, and neighborhoods change. They become safe for real employers and 
middle class residents. A person can go home again.

Over the past 30 years, the United States has put about two-thirds of its 
massive drug war investment into interdiction and law enforcement, and one 
third into treatment and education. Reverse that, and maybe we'd get somewhere.
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