Pubdate: Fri, 08 Dec 2006
Source: DrugSense Weekly (DSW)



By Jim Dean

I commend Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand for having the 
intellectual integrity and political courage to point out the 
self-defeating nature of our approach to drugs (Herald, Nov. 30).

I was a probation officer for 25 years, most of which was in the 
federal system here in Vermont, before retiring in 1997. My career 
coincided with the ramp-up of the "War on Drugs," and I had the 
opportunity to observe its ineffectiveness first-hand.

The various drugs that we classify as illegal are usually dangerous 
substances and certainly pose both individual and public health 
problems.  However, we selectively decide which substances to 
criminalize.  Once we criminalize a substance, we transform a health 
problem into a social problem. We create a market incentive -- and by 
criminalizing a drug, we ensure that the only ones who will respond 
to that market incentive are those willing to operate outside the 
law.  Operating outside the law means that the usual mechanisms for 
resolving business conflicts -- suing for breach of contract, for 
example -- are not available. Hence, when business conflicts arise, 
they tend to be resolved by extra-legal means, i.e., violence.  We 
also artificially inflate the price of the commodity we have 
criminalized, meaning that huge profit margins are available to those 
willing to break the law. We transform health problems into social 
problems, to the detriment of everyone in our society.  And because 
it is so profitable, we create a powerful market incentive for 
people, especially those marginalized due to discrimination or lack 
of education, to enter the market. In my career I saw numerous drug 
pushers who were ill-equipped to operate in the legitimate economy, 
but who made fortunes ( and wreaked untold havoc ) by selling drugs.

It is very difficult to have a rational discussion of this 
emotionally charged topic, and I commend Mr. Sand for his effort to 
start that process here in Vermont. The present system harms many and 
protects few, while guaranteeing a never-ending source of criminals 
and social damage.  We need to step back and re-examine what we are 
doing.  We have the polar opposite of the "If it ain't broke don't 
fix it" situation. Our present approach is deeply flawed and does a 
great deal of harm. We need to fix it. I am heartened to see Mr. Sand 
take the public lead in that effort.

Jim Dean, Burlington, The writer is retired chief U.S. probation officer.

Pubdate - Tue, 05 Dec 2006

Source - Rutland Herald (VT)

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