Pubdate: Sat, 26 Sep 2009
Source: Daily Pilot (Costa Mesa, CA)
Copyright: 2009 Daily Pilot
Author: James P. Gray
Note: James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior 
Court, the author of Wearing the Robe - the Art and Responsibilities 
of Judging in Today's Courts (Square One Press, 2008)


Last weekend I spoke at a drug policy conference at the University of 
Texas at El Paso. It was put together in response to a resolution 
adopted last January by the El Paso City Council that urged the 
support of "an honest, open national debate on ending the prohibition 
on narcotics."

This resolution was in turn adopted as a result of the enormous and 
continuing violence among warring drug cartels across the Rio Grande 
River from El Paso in Juarez, Mexico.

After my presentation it struck me that through all of these many 
years I have been speaking about this critical issue, I have never 
heard anyone who supports the status quo tell us what our goals 
actually are for our country's drug policy.

So, with the understanding that we are all on the same side of this 
issue, namely we all want to reduce drug abuse and all of the harm 
and misery that accompanies it, I have made a list of the top 10 
goals that I think we are trying to accomplish in this area, in order 
of importance. See if you agree. They are:

1. Reduce the exposure of drugs to and usage of drugs by children;

2. Stop or materially reduce the violence that accompanies the 
manufacture and distribution of drugs, especially to police officers 
and innocent by-standers;

3. Stop or materially reduce the corruption of public officials, 
individual people and companies, and especially children that 
accompanies the manufacture and distribution of drugs;

4. Stop or materially reduce crime both by people trying to get money 
to purchase drugs and by those under the influence of drugs;

5. Stop or materially reduce the flow of drugs into our country;

6. Reduce health risks to people who use drugs;

7. Maintain and reaffirm our civil liberties;

8. Reduce the number of people we must put into our jails and prisons;

9. Stop or materially reduce the flow of guns out of our country and 
into countries south of our border;

10. Increase respect for our laws and institutions.

You might want to replace one of these goals with another, or 
readjust the order, but I anticipate that most people would basically 
agree with those top 10 goals. Please give it some thought.

Now please give the subject some further thought, because I genuinely 
believe that treating the manufacture and sale of these drugs just 
like we treat alcohol - for adults - will actually accomplish each of 
those goals, and that pursuing our present policy of drug prohibition 
will never accomplish any of them.

The last part of that comment has already been proved, because we 
have been actively pursuing our present policy since the early 1970s, 
and throughout that entire time, the situation has demonstrably only 
gotten worse.

If we were to allow these drugs to be manufactured by reputable 
pharmaceutical or tobacco companies on low bid contract with the 
government, and then sold to adults at government package stores in 
brown packaging without any trade names or any advertising 
whatsoever, and at prices that are about half of what they are being 
sold for today out on the streets, the drugs would be less available 
to children.

Ask our young people yourselves, and they will tell you what they 
tell me, that it is easier for them today to get marijuana, or any 
other drug, if they want to, than it is alcohol. Why? Because today's 
illegal drug dealers don't ask for ID!

It would also almost completely stop the crime in the manufacture and 
distribution of drugs, just as the repeal of Alcohol Prohibition put 
the Al Capones of this world out of business.

Today if Budweiser has distribution problems with Coors, they don't 
take guns to the streets to resolve them. Instead they file a 
complaint in court, and have it peacefully adjudicated by judges like me.

In a similar fashion, the corruption caused by the huge amounts of 
available cash in today's illegal distribution of drugs would 
virtually disappear.

Why? Because the price of the drugs would be cut in half, and it 
would still be illegal to buy, use, sell or possess drugs not 
purchased from the government outlets, illegal dealers would lose a 
great deal of their present market.

That would run most of them out of business. (And if cutting the 
price in half would not be sufficient, the price could always be 
reduced further.)

That would also seriously reduce the flow of drugs into our country 
because there would not be a market for them.

Furthermore, because drug dealers would no longer be making obscene 
profits from the sale of illicit drugs, they would not have the money 
to purchase guns here, and smuggle them into countries south of our border.

Most of the health risks of the usage of these drugs today are caused 
by the unknown strength and unknown purity of the drugs, and things 
like the AIDS virus and hepatitis are transmitted by using unclean 
needles.  These are easy problems to resolve.

In fact the FDA resolved virtually all of these problems with 
over-the-counter and prescription drugs years ago. Similarly, the 
repeal of Alcohol Prohibition virtually eliminated the "bathtub gin" 
impurities problems.

Because most of the losses of our civil liberties have come from 
cases involving drug offenses, that trend would be discontinued, thus 
reducing the erosion of our civil liberties. And because we would not 
have the illicit drug dealers in business so much any more, and drug 
users would not automatically be criminals, that would materially 
reduce the numbers of people we would be forced to incarcerate.

Furthermore, because we would no longer be doing things like 
arresting sick people for the use of medical marijuana, or seeing 
people openly selling drugs on street corners, or trying to enforce 
laws that make literally millions of people in our country automatic 
criminals for smoking marijuana, that would increase respect for our 
nation's laws, as well as the agencies that are attempting to enforce our laws.

The last goal to address would be the issue of crimes committed by 
drug users, both to get money to purchase the drugs, and crimes 
committed while under their influence.

I could argue that with the price cut in half, drug addicted people 
would only need to steal half as much to get their drugs.

But many would argue that, because the price was reduced, those 
people would simply use more drugs - and they might be right.

But several countries such as Holland and Portugal have found that 
the act of decriminalizing drugs has made drug-addicted people much 
less fearful of their own government.

That has resulted in them being much more likely to come forward and 
seek drug treatment.

Furthermore, now that those governments are saving the money they 
previously spent to investigate, prosecute and incarcerate users, 
more money is available to pay for treatment.

In addition, they found that when drug addiction is treated as a 
medical issue, the usage of drugs is deglamorized, to the extent that 
younger people are not nearly as likely to go down that road. So for 
all of those reasons, drug crimes and drug abuse in those countries 
have been materially reduced.

Regarding crimes committed by people under the influence of drugs, 
those would still be prosecuted, just like we do today with 
alcohol-related offenses.

Holding people accountable for their actions, instead of what they 
put into their bodies, is what the criminal justice system was 
designed for, and that is a truly legitimate criminal justice function.

What is the difference? Because when someone drives a motor vehicle 
under the influence of any of these mind-altering and sometimes 
addicting drugs, etc., they are putting our safety at risk. And they 
should continue to be prosecuted vigorously for those acts.

So if you really want to achieve the goals of our nation's drug 
policy, help me to repeal the policy of Drug Prohibition, which has 
led us down the wrong path for decades.

And that is not even to mention the large amounts of revenue the 
governments can generate by taxing these sales.

So that one act will make the world a safer and more prosperous place 
for us, and for our children. What do you think?
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake