Pubdate: Fri, 17 Feb 2012
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2012 MaineToday Media, Inc.
Author: M. D. Harmon


It seemed strange that aging crooner Tony Bennett's first comment on the
death of Whitney Houston was a plea for the legalization of now-outlawed
drugs. But his point deserves some consideration, despite the fact that
no illegal drugs appear to have been involved in Houston's death.

Although she admitted to illegal drug use in the past, and had been
treated for it, this time she appears to have overdosed on powerful
prescription drugs.

With the autopsy results still weeks away, that account may change as
the investigation proceeds, but this is a sad story no matter what

Houston's death at the far-too-young age of 48 recalls previous pop
star overdoses, including Michael Jackson's and Amy Winehouse's, with
commentators once again asking: Why would a person with such appeal --
and at one time a $100 million fortune -- abuse drugs? And why weren't
those who cared for her able to halt such a self-destructive path
before its predictable finale?

I don't have the answers, and it may be that there are no satisfactory
ones. Celebrities' lives are not the flights of glamour and grandeur
that the fan magazines often make them out to be. People are people,
strong in some ways and fragile in others, and those ways are
different for all of us.

But this isn't really about Houston, but Bennett. Here's what he said
to a crowd at the same Beverly Hills hotel where Houston's body was
found: "I'd like to have every gentleman and lady in this room commit
themselves to get our government to legalize drugs," he said. "So they
have to get it from a doctor, not just some gangsters that just sell
it under the table."

But addiction specialists said they couldn't understand Bennett's
point, not only because it didn't seem to apply to Houston, but also
because Jackson died from a prescription drug overdose and Winehouse
from alcohol poisoning.

Bennett's comments weren't all that strange, however, when you
consider that a campaign to legalize some currently prohibited drugs
for "recreational" purposes has persisted for a long time and displays
no signs of going away.

The list begins with marijuana, but it doesn't stop there. Cocaine,
heroin, OxyContin, even methamphetamines, all have their supporters.
They argue that the current "war on drugs" is too expensive; makes
criminals of people who are no danger to society; has created some
symptoms of a police state in America; and has led to social unrest
and violence not only in this country but in nations like Mexico,
Colombia, Bolivia, Afghanistan and others that produce drugs for a
worldwide market -- in which the United States remains the biggest

It's not all coming from the political left, either. The staunchly
conservative magazine National Review has argued for years for the
decriminalization of marijuana, and libertarian sources, including the
movement's flagship magazine, Reason, and GOP presidential candidate
Ron Paul, a doctor, promote the relaxation of many drug

The anti-drug campaign is indeed expensive. Estimates of its total
costs, including law enforcement, judicial proceedings, incarceration
and treatment are at least $15 billion annually and some place them at
more than $40 billion.

Those arguments carry some weight. But there are also weighty
arguments against legalization.

One is that the removal of drug prohibitions will also minimize the
social stigma associated with their use. It seems logical that when
drugs are available as a commodity, they will be ubiquitous, widely
available not only to their intended adult users but to children and
others who should never take them.

Comparisons to the failed experiment of Prohibition are countered with
the view that society is burdened enough by the problems created by
alcohol, a drug that has been present in all cultures for millennia
and still remains hedged about with legal barriers to its general use.

Expanding the legality of dozens of other mind-altering substances
will have an impact that isn't easily comprehended, but will have far
more undesirable results than beneficial ones. Certainly Houston's
death proves that making drugs legal is not the same thing as making
them less dangerous.

Is there a middle ground? Some say that even absent full legalization,
redirecting spending toward mandatory long-term treatment instead of
imprisonment (with the latter as an option if treatment is
ineffective, resisted or refused) is a better long-term social option.

Similar programs have been tried in such nations as Sweden and
produced reductions in overall drug use, reports say.

It will do no harm to have the legalization debate more openly, and
that may have been Bennett's point. But there are deeply harmful
effects from the abuse of any "social" drug, including alcohol, and we
shouldn't change our laws and attitudes until we're certain we can
protect the most vulnerable among us.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.