Pubdate: Thu, 12 Jan 2012
Source: Tucson Weekly (AZ)
Copyright: 2012 Tucson Weekly
Author: Rich Wandschneider


Rich Wandschneider is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service
of High Country News. He writes from Joseph, Ore. A cop friend told me
not long ago that he had changed his mind on the idea of legalizing
drugs. His current take: "Legalize everything but meth, and hang the
meth-pushers"--or something close to that.

We were talking about a kid we both had known back in the day, a kid
who had some problems but skated along at the edge of the law, made it
through school and even had some jobs. Then he got hooked on
methamphetamine. He is now in prison.

Whether legal or illegal, drugs alter the way people think and the way
they behave, my friend said. Meth, however, does something worse: It
completely transforms its users, loosening whatever anchors of
conscience and humanity they have.

"Regulate drugs as legal products; tax them; make them unattractive
for criminals; and let us go after the bad guys running the meth
business," my friend said. All these other illegal drugs--from pot to
heroin--create huge profit centers, and the law-enforcement community
spends a great deal of time and energy chasing the criminals who
exploit them, leaving no time for pursuing meth dealers.

The illegal status of pot makes criminals out of ordinary people who
think drug laws are stupid and should be ignored, if not exploited.
Remember Prohibition, where backyard stills, wineries and breweries
made criminals of many rural people, and big-time criminals made
fortunes running alcohol across the borders of Canada and Mexico?

When I suggested that the big mountain to climb in legalizing drugs
(except for meth) would be the alcohol and tobacco lobbies, my friend
the policeman agreed.

And don't forget the "prison lobby," another friend, Ben Butzein,
added later. Ben was a drug-user in the 1960s, and spent time in
prison for it. Upon his release, he hooked up with an outfit in
Portland, Ore., called Better People, which helps ex-cons get their
lives back together. Ben was a fine example: He became a fine
cabinetmaker, a sometimes-poet, and a part-time resident of Wallowa

He also fought for prison reform and for the rehabilitation of
prisoners, a stance that had him battling the prison lobby. Ben passed
away a few years ago. But I remember him talking and writing
passionately about the prison-builders, the corporate owners and their
lobbies--private prisons were then a fast-growing industry--and how they
influenced drug and prison reform.

Maybe the prison lobby has quieted down, but I doubt it. Alcohol and
tobacco industries and their lobbies must still have their thumbs in
any debate about legalizing currently illegal drugs. And I doubt that
the associations of prison guards and the attorneys and wardens--who
make a living making sure that our country incarcerates more of its
citizens than any other "developed" country in the world--are staying
quiet. I imagine that the drug cartels in Mexico would also not favor
legalizing any of the drugs they sell so well in our country. Ditto
for the builders of border fences and surveillance systems; isn't it
amazing that fences on the Canadian border have been proposed?

Meanwhile, we continue to make normal folks into criminals over drugs
that could be regulated and taxed, as we do with alcohol. We continue
to spend law-enforcement time and energy chasing after the bad guys
attracted to the business--the heirs to the Prohibition era's Capones.
And we spend more and more money on a war on drugs that we cannot win.

We also continue to watch as weapons and drugs are shipped across our
southern border, and as gangster wars erupt among the cartels that
keep drug violence raging across Mexico. No vacationing now in Acapulco!

And the meth guys? They are still out there, cooking their poisons in
small towns and large, running their stuff across state and national
boundaries, fueling crimes from theft to murder, filling prisons and
treatment programs, and giving the overburdened law-enforcement
community more than full-time employment. 
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