Pubdate: Tue, 22 Mar 2011
Source: News Tribune, The (Tacoma, WA)
Copyright: 2011 Tacoma News Inc.
Author: Ingrid Walker
Note: Ingrid Walker is associate professor of arts, media and culture 
at the University of Washington Tacoma. She is writing a book about 
the use and perception of illegal drugs in the United States.
Bookmark: (Washington)


State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson's bill to legalize and tax marijuana in 
Washington addresses a state revenue shortfall and challenges a federal policy.

State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson's bill to legalize and tax marijuana in 
Washington addresses a state revenue shortfall and challenges a federal policy.

In considering her proposal, it's important to examine not just its 
local effect but also the context of federal prohibition because one 
influences the other.

In Washington and across the country, there is a significant 
discrepancy between drug prohibition and practice. U.S. Department of 
Health and Human Services surveys show little change in our habits 
over the three decades of an all-out domestic drug war.

Recent episodes of the next legal high, whether bath salts, salvia or 
Four Loko, reflect a critical truth. We are a nation of users; we 
indulge in all sorts of consciousness-altering substances and practices.

Yet, the domestic drug war continues as a social policy. What are the 
effects of this effort? Billions of dollars have been spent 
prosecuting and incarcerating people for low-level drug offenses. 
 From 1989-2009, more people were incarcerated for drug offenses than 
for all violent crimes combined.

To fully consider decriminalization in Washington, we need 
well-informed discussion to examine our assumptions about various 
drugs and their users. The problem is that the drug war has limited 
research, silenced casual users and intimidated people about 
discussing the realities of drug use.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and its drug czar 
can't be a public resource because their mission excludes the 
possibility of legalization. Researchers with data to share should 
inform this debate. The following points are offered in that spirit:

The U.S. drug war is not, as stated, a war on drug distribution. It 
has become a war on users. In 2008, 4 out of 5 drug arrests were for 
possession, not for distribution. Since the ONDCP was founded in 
1988, incarceration for drug offenses has risen 1,100 percent, but 
drug use continues relatively unabated. Even law enforcement 
professionals acknowledge the futility of policing drug use.

The drug war's propaganda is costly, but is it effective? In a 
domestic drug war funded by over $15 billion a year, the focal media 
campaigns (including D.A.R.E.) have not demonstrated efficacy in 
curtailing illicit drug use.

We are all users. Most everyone seeks to intentionally affect 
consciousness in one way or another, from caffeine and alcohol to 
practices such as yoga or running (which stimulate endocannaboids in 
the brain). We support the use of pharmaceuticals to manage moods.

So we should rethink "use," especially the urge to get high, as a 
human appetite and broaden our understanding of that desire.

Our drug scheduling system is unscientific and illogical, and its 
related penalties are unjust. A re-evaluation of controlled 
substances classification is overdue because it is incongruent with 
what we have learned about many of these substances since 1970.

For example, marijuana and ecstasy are listed with heroin in Schedule 
I the most dangerous drugs. Cocaine, methamphetamine and oxycodone, 
however, are in Schedule II seen as less hazardous. The schedules 
should be revised with updated scientific data.

The drug war, whose policy goal is "the creation of a drug-free 
America," is an abject failure. Although it's imprisoned many people 
for low-level drug offenses, this domestic war has not significantly 
influenced the urge to use drugs, except perhaps to make illicit 
substances less available and increase the recreational use of pharmaceuticals.

We celebrate substance use in this country, whether through coffee 
culture, cocktail mixology or synthetic drugs. If we consider growing 
trends of substance use, it's hard to see a drug-free America as 
anything but a fantasyland that most of us don't want to inhabit.

We like our mood-altering substances ... with or without a black 
market economy.

The U.S. drug war's consequences have become part of an invisible 
cultural landscape. As a police sergeant says in "The Wire," "You 
can't call this a war . . . wars end." Drug prohibition is 
ineffective but has created an industry that is costing us a great deal.

With the proposal to legalize marijuana, Washingtonians have an 
opportunity and an obligation to reconsider what this war has wrought. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake