Pubdate: Sat, 21 Dec 2013
Source: Tribune-Democrat, The (Johnstown, PA)
Copyright: 2013 The Tribune-Democrat
Author: Jim Scofield


JOHNSTOWN - Every day, the newspaper lists more drug arrests and 
convictions. Yes, we all know addicts whose lives have been harmed by 
drugs. And we probably have many friends whose lives have been 
seriously damaged by alcoholism. Tobacco is even more dangerous, 
killing about 400,000 Americans per year.

Yet the police no longer, since the end of Prohibition in the 1930s, 
arrest users and sellers of alcohol. Beer is heavily promoted during 
major sporting events watched by kids. Cigarette ads are restricted 
now, but smoking is still heavily promoted by tobacco corporations, 
whose executives aren't subject to arrest. Most smokers start at age 
13, partly from the influence of movies and ads.

All these substances are problems to at least some extent. However, 
most of the 70 percent or so of Americans who drink do so safely. 
Every culture uses some inebriating substances.

The idea of at least decriminalizing drugs is not to increase users. 
We already have a high usage of street drugs. Decriminalizing them 
probably wouldn't increase the amount of use much, if at all. In 
Portugal, "decriminalization hasn't made the problem worse," one 
expert stated. What we'd like to do is make addiction a medical, not 
a criminal, problem. Our prisons are shamefully overflowing, in large 
part due to drug convictions. Drugs don't cause violence or crime. 
But the black market for drugs causes violent conflicts between 
pushers battling for territories and lots of robberies by users 
desperate for drugs or money to buy them. Alcohol prohibition did the 
same in the 1920s.

Our police have far too much power to search our homes and persons 
just because of invasive drug laws.

Blacks use and sell drugs no more than whites, but they are 
imprisoned much more. In fact, in many ways, the war on drugs has 
become a war against African-Americans.

Arrests for marijuana possession - the least potent street drug - 
have tripled in the past 20 years. In New York City, 87 percent of 
those arrested for pot are blacks and Latinos.

"It is not clear that consuming marijuana or cocaine has significant 
negative effects if the product is affordable, if we don't have to 
risk our lives to get it, and if the product hasn't been diluted 
secretly by rat poison" (Jeffrey Miron, Harvard University 
researcher). We have learned that the same can be said about alcohol, 
and have kept that substance legal. Yet alcohol kills many more 
people each year than all illicit drugs combined.

Colorado and Washington state have partially legalized marijuana 
distribution, and many cities only give out misdemeanor penalties for 
usage. Licensed dealers, informal friend-to-friend distribution, and 
cheaper prices - getting rid of "the illegal drug premium" - will 
probably undercut street pushers. Illegal dealers do "push," 
expanding drug usage, especially among the young. Even taxing these 
drugs, now being tried in Colorado, may provide the funds that will 
help alleviate the problems.

Unfortunately we allow big corporations like Budweiser to push and 
glamorize alcohol and Phillip Morris to do the same for cigarettes. 
It would be better to prevent this sort of product promotion of drugs.

At the same time, accurate public information about the possible 
dangers is needed, as we do now with these two legal products. 
Accurate information, not the unsupported scare stuff - "marijuana 
madness" - authorities often use.

It's too early to say how best to carry out decriminalization, 
especially with the numbers of street drugs available. We can work 
this out, though. But let's stop imprisoning and ruining the lives of 
so many Americans, often with absurdly long sentences. Let's treat 
drug problems as we do alcohol problems. If someone commits a crime 
while under the influence, punish them for that crime, not for using.

Let our police be free to protect our real interests, not be 
overinvolved with repeated drug raids and arrests that pretty 
obviously are not solving anything. Our streets, offices, and homes 
will be safer without this misconceived "war on drugs." These drugs 
will still be consumed at about the same rate as now, but more 
safely, for all of us.

I and most of the people I know won't find legal drugs seductive. And 
we'll encourage the skeptical attitude toward them that we now have 
for alcohol and tobacco.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom