Pubdate: Thu, 23 May 2002
Source: Zephyr, The (IL)
Copyright: 2002, The Zephyr
Authors: Kirk Muse, Stephen Young



Letter writer Carrie Stoafer was right on the money in her outstanding 
letter, "Drug laws extreme" (5-9-02). I would, however, go beyond saying 
that our drug laws are just extreme. I'd describe our drug laws as 
diabolically evil and inhumane.

Our jails and prisons should be reserved for people that harm other people. 
Not just themselves.

Kirk Muse

Mesa, Ariz.



Like a weed that thrives in drought, the drug war continues to grow in 

The state is facing a $1.2 billion budget deficit, but legislators are 
supporting increased funding for drug prohibition.

Last week, State Senate members approved a measure to increase penalties 
for possession of small amounts of heroin. The legislation calls for felony 
possession of a single gram of heroin to be punished with up to 15 years in 
prison. House members had already approved the bill, so now it goes to the 

A single senator voted against the bill, citing concerns about prison 
crowding, already a problem in the state.

Other legislators think it's a good idea. The logic is impeccable. Just ask 
Sen. David Sullivan, the sponsor of the plan.

"We are trying to take away the tactical advantage of selling heroin," 
Sullivan said.  "This is a logical step of bringing penalties for heroin in 
line with cocaine."

After decades of drug war, one might think that Sen. Sullivan could 
understand that new pools of dealers and drugs always fill any tiny hole 
that might be caused by tougher penalties. But when the state's just a 
little over a billion in the red, why consider the actual effects of 
legislation? Maybe Sullivan will do just that when there's a real budget 
crisis -- say a $2 billion deficit.

That same principle must have been at play last month when the House 
approved a bill that would limit time for good behavior for some convicted 
marijuana growers. The cost of the bill was estimated at $3.3 million per 
year. Could there be a better place in the state budget for a few million 

Gov. George Ryan recently recognized that punishing non-violent drug 
offenders may not be the most fiscally wise policy. Ryan proposed the early 
release of some non-violent prisoners, in hopes of reducing prison costs. 
Of course, former drug-seller Ryan (he was a pharmacist) is a lame duck. 
Perpetually hounded by allegations of corruption, he dared not run for a 
second term. Now Ryan has little to lose by occasionally stating the 
obvious. It wasn't always so. Back when he was still theoretically viable 
for a second term, Ryan vetoed not one, but two bills that would have 
allowed the study of hemp as a crop in Illinois. Now that Ryan's actually 
talking some sense on drug policy, other politicians don't want to hear it. 
Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine called Ryan's early release 
plan "reprehensible."

What's really reprehensible is what the drug war has done to Illinois and 
its prison  system. In the Land of Lincoln, African-Americans comprise 90 
percent of drug offenders admitted into prison. A black man is 57 times 
more likely to be sent to prison on drug charges than a white man, despite 
similar rates of use between races. Similar racial disparities exist in 
other state prison systems, but according to Human Rights Watch, Illinois 
leads the nation in rates of disparity. The recent heroin legislation can 
only make the gap wider.

The budget crisis offers a perfect chance for legislators to quietly back 
away from decades of terrible prohibitionist policy. It's a shame lawmakers 
don't seem to recognize their opportunity.

To describe the Illinois drug war as a drought-resistant weed actually 
understates the case. Prohibition is more like the mutant plant in "Little 
Shop of Horrors" -- constantly growing, and ready to devour any resources 
within reach.

It's time to stop feeding the beast with money we don't have, and lives we 
can't afford to waste.

Stephen Young

- ---
MAP posted-by: Alex