Pubdate: Fri, 08 Jun 2007
Source: Times Argus (Barre, VT)
Copyright: 2007 Times Argus
Author: Daniel Barlow, Vermont Press Bureau
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


MONTPELIER -- If you ask Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand,
the war on drugs is a bit like the war in Iraq.

Both are wars based on misinformation that have led to extreme human
suffering, Sand said during a forum in Montpelier Thursday on drug
policies. And both wars have no end in sight and are escalated by
unsustainable surges, he said.

"It is time for peace talks in the war on drugs," said Sand, who
supports decriminalizing marijuana and using a public health approach
to rehabilitate addicts of harder illegal substances.

The law enforcement approach to drugs such as marijuana cause more
harm than the use of the drug itself, Sand said. It's also expensive,
he said, pointing out that a traffic stop for speeding may take 30
minutes while a stop that involves "a small amount of dried plant
material" jumps to three hours.

"If the harm of our response outweighs the harm of the use of the drug
itself, then we need to change our response," said Sand, who added
that violence is only associated with marijuana when "transactions go

Several of the panelists in the morning could not disagree with Sand

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow compared the war on drugs to
efforts to stop domestic violence or fraud. Those two societal
problems also continue to exist, but it doesn't mean that law
enforcement should stop its "ongoing response," he explained.

Darrow also told of a South Hero couple whose recent experimentation
with OxyContin has resulted in severe addiction, prison, several trips
to rehab and the state taking away their child. He said that is the
reality of addiction of Vermont."If that sounds like 'Reefer Madness'
to say drugs are poisonous and toxic -- but they are," he added,
referring to the 1936 propaganda film that depicts casual marijuana
use as leading to insanity, violence and death.

Barre Police Chief Tim Bombardier agreed, saying that decriminalizing
marijuana would lead to companies marketing the drug to teenagers as
it has tobacco and alcohol. He endorsed expanding prevention and
treatment efforts, including expanding the drug court program to all
of Vermont's counties.

"I have a one-word answer to the question of legalizing drugs," said
Bombardier. "No."

But Sand found support in an unlikely place: Barre Mayor Thomas
Lauzon, a public accountant who was elected in May 2006 and recently
came out in support of legalizing marijuana and instituting the death
penalty for heroin and cocaine dealers.

Picking up on a metaphor used earlier by Sand that if the drug war was
a public company then its stockholders would be revolting, Lauzon said
that it would have long ago been delisted for its results.

But the Barre mayor also endorsed the controversial idea of killing
people who "mix methamphetamines with strawberry Kool-aid because
14-year-olds will ingest it easier." He said some people are evil and
have no social value.

"At the end of the day, I think we are going to have to consider (the
death penalty)," he said.

Many attending the forum at Capitol Plaza Thursday seemed to endorse
adjusting drug laws, including Cliff Thornton, who ran for governor in
Connecticut with the Green Party on a platform of taking a new
approach to the drug war.

Thornton, whose mother died of a heroin overdose when he was in high
school, heaped praise on Sand for his position on drugs.

"You are one of the first who are looking at things in a practical and
logical way," Thornton said. "You have tremendous courage and I just
want to say, God bless you."

Allen Gilbert, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties
Union of Vermont and the organizer of the forum, said he hoped this
discussion would prompt a larger, statewide talk on how Vermont
approaches drug use.

The ACLU supports ending "punitive drug policies that cause the
widespread violation of constitutional and human rights, as well as
unprecedented levels of incarceration," according to the national
organization's Web site.

"Drug policy is a topic that everyone thinks we should be talking
about," Gilbert said. "And when we do sit down and do that it is very
difficult because the way we think about this issue colors our views
on the issue."

Indeed, sparks flew between Darrow and Sand as the assistant U.S.
attorney accused the state's attorney of supporting the
decriminalization of all illegal drugs. To support his contention,
Darrow quoted from several newspaper articles on Sand's position.

"It states very clearly in this article that you support legalizing
all drugs," Darrow said.

"Please don't base my position on a characterization in the
newspaper," Sand responded at the end of an exchange that featured
some interrupting and raised voices. "You were here to hear my speech."

Thursday's forum concluded with a panel on alcohol abuse and a
presentation by former Middlebury College President John McCardell,
who is now the founder of Choose Responsibility, an organization that
advocates reducing the legal drinking age to 18.

Using a PowerPoint presentation and graphs from federal traffic
organizations, McCardell set out to show that the reduction of
alcohol-related traffic fatalities has more to do with safer cars than
the 1984 federal law that forced states to increase the drinking age
to 21.

McCardell said his research suggests that the rise in binge drinking
on college campuses has resulted from the "legal age 21" law. Teaching
alcohol education and treating 18-year-olds like adults who can make
their own alcohol-related decisions will help stem that behavior, he

He did concede that his proposal is controversial. But he said it is a
discussion that the country needs to have if it wants young adults to
begin using alcohol responsibly.

"This discussion hasn't happened in 20 years," McCardell said. "And
I'm naive enough to believe that if it does, my side has a reasonable
chance of succeeding."

An early-afternoon panel with substance abuse professionals focused on
a closer look at addiction. Rory Malone, an attorney with the Vermont
Defender General's Prisoner's Rights Office, noted that nearly all the
cases he reviews involve some form of abuse of drugs or alcohol.

Addicts often relapse, he said, and since staying sober is often tied
to their release, they end up incarcerated again, he explained.

"You don't treat an illness by punishment," he said.
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