Pubdate: Fri, 25 Apr 2008
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Section: A
Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Times
Authors: Jacob Sullum and Charles Stimson
Referenced: Monday's DUST UP
Referenced: Tuesday's DUST UP
Referenced: Wednesday's DUST UP
Referenced: Thursday's DUST UP



What Would the Ideal U.S. Drug Policy Be? What Would You Keep and
Reject From Current Laws?

Today, Sullum and Stimson present their own frameworks for substance
control laws in the U.S. Previously, they compared drug legalization
and decriminalization, debated the federal government's authority to
raid local marijuana dispensaries, discussed past substance use by
successful politicians and addressed drug violence.

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By Jacob Sullum

The ideal drug policy would apply to the currently illegal intoxicants
the same distinctions we routinely apply to alcohol: between children
and adults, between use and abuse, between abuse that harms only the
user and abuse that harms others.

Selling drugs to minors should remain illegal. But adults should be
free to decide for themselves what goes into their bodies, provided
they do not violate anyone else's rights in the process.

Under such a policy, some people would use currently illegal drugs to
excess, just as some people use alcohol to excess. But judging from
history, current patterns of alcohol consumption and data on illegal
drug use, the vast majority would not.

Until 1914, opiates, cocaine and cannabis were readily and legally
available in the United States over the counter and by mail order.
They were incorporated into a wide variety of medicines, tonics and
popular beverages. Yet even the highest estimates of addiction in the
late 19th and early 20th centuries, offered by people making the case
for prohibition, indicate that heavy users represented less than 1% of
the population.

In the case of alcohol, moderation is the rule. About 10% of those who
have consumed at least one drink in the last year qualify as "heavy
users," meaning they've had five or more drinks on the same occasion
on each of five or more days in the last month. The government's own
survey data indicate that what's true of alcohol is also true of
marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and even heroin: The vast majority
of people who try these drugs do not become addicts. In a legal
market, the rate of addiction among users would be, if anything,
lower, because the people who are most prone to addiction are probably
the ones who are least deterred by prohibition. And before you imagine
Americans flocking to crack and heroin the moment prohibition is
repealed, consider the fact that these are distinctly minority tastes
even among illegal drug users, who overwhelmingly prefer marijuana.

Cully, in your first post you accused me of sidestepping "the issue of
morality," so let me be explicit. Psychoactive substances are not
inherently good or evil; the morality of drug use depends on how the
drug is used, for what purpose and in what context. Unwinding at the
end of the day or on the weekend by smoking a little marijuana, for
example, is morally indistinguishable from doing the same thing with
beer, wine or liquor.

Your parade of horror stories, featuring a president high on heroin
during a national crisis, meth-addicted child abusers and stoned
school bus drivers, obscures the crucial distinction between use and
abuse. We could just as easily have a president who is drunk during a
national crisis, an alcoholic who beats his kids or an inebriated bus
driver. There are ways to deal with such situations that do not
require general prohibition. If a drunk wrecks his personal
relationships, he pays a social cost; if he screws up at work, he may
lose his job; if he assaults someone or endangers others by driving
while intoxicated, he can be arrested. But unless his conduct rises to
the level of a crime or tort, the law leaves him alone.

The anecdote about your friend "Bob," the lawyer whose alcohol abuse
jeopardized his career, family and health but who "got professional
help" and is now "a world-class advocate, father and husband,"
supports my argument. Would Bob have been better off if he had been
arrested for alcohol possession and treated like a criminal?

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Jacob Sullum, a senior editor at Reason magazine and a nationally
syndicated columnist, is the author of "Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use."

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By Charles "Cully" Stimson


The ideal drug policy would reduce the demand and supply of illegal
drugs -- and deal compassionately and creatively with people addicted
to those drugs.

Although your alcohol analogy is intellectually intoxicating, it
leaves most of us with a bad hangover. Here's why: Most people who
drink alcohol do so in moderation and rarely get intoxicated. They
drink to relax, usually in a responsible manner. Some abuse alcohol,
and there's an appropriate system in place to deal with those who
overindulge. But the main purpose of taking drugs is to get
intoxicated. The liabilities and social costs of drug legalization are
just too high.

You rightly point out that psychoactive drugs are not inherently good
or evil, just like a handgun isn't inherently good or evil. Yet
legalizing drugs gives society a green light to get high, and the
attendant costs will, over time, far exceed the money we spend now.

First, we need to evaluate our existing policies and programs
objectively. Some are a waste of money; they should be eliminated. An
effective national drug policy requires leadership from the president.
Reducing demand and supply requires a comprehensive,
multi-disciplinary approach, not a simplistic wave-the-wand-and-legalize-it

At a minimum, an effective policy should include early, targeted
education and prevention programs, effective treatment and
rehabilitation, smart law enforcement strategies, fact-based research
and trustworthy international partnerships.

Addicts need our help. Their numbers have remained the same for
decades. Eleven years ago, I worked as a drug court prosecutor in San
Diego. I watched convicted addicts get clean through a tough-love
approach that included mandatory therapy, weekly drug testing and the
threat of jail. Prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges worked
together with addicts to help them on their journeys from addiction to
long-term sobriety. Recidivism rates in drug courts are very
encouraging. We need more programs like drug courts.

Drugs in prisons are a big problem. During my years as a prosecutor
and defense attorney, it was a given that inmates used drugs in jail.
I never saw one person prosecuted for providing drugs to inmates. That
needs to change. We need to stop the inflow of drugs to jails and
prisons and then develop meaningful education, treatment and
rehabilitation programs for inmates who use or are addicted.

Young people need to understand the dangers of illegal drugs through
proper educational programs. Programs like the "Just Say No" national
campaign in the 1980s helped reduce the use of drugs by young people.
That's a good thing, and we need more of it.

The ideal drug policy would create incentives for industry to conduct
cutting-edge research in a wide variety of areas. For example,
scientists created Dronabinol, a synthetic THC (the active ingredient
in marijuana) approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which
helps alleviate nausea in cancer patients.

Finally, we need to honestly re-evaluate sentencing policies at the
federal and state level. The best sentencing guidelines provide hefty
prison terms for suppliers and dealers -- and reasonable flexibility
for judges to deal with small-time users. They also provide effective
rehabilitation and treatment programs to dissuade future use.

We will never win the poorly named "war on drugs," just like we will
never win the battle against child abuse, domestic violence, murder or
other crimes. The vast majority of Americans oppose legalization, and
with good reason. They know, intuitively, that if you legalize drugs,
you will unleash social chaos whose costs are virtually endless.

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Charles "Cully" Stimson was a local, state and federal prosecutor, a
military prosecutor and defense attorney, and deputy assistant
secretary of Defense. Currently, he is a senior legal fellow at the
Heritage Foundation ( 
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