Pubdate: Thu, 26 Feb 2015
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Mike Bush


A former Bernalillo County prosecutor told a group of UNM law 
students Wednesday that the decades-old war on drugs "has failed in 
every respect and exacerbated every problem it was called on to fix."

Ethan Simon, an assistant district attorney from 2008 to 2011, spoke 
on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of police 
officers and former officers who oppose the prohibition on drugs. He 
was invited to the University of New Mexico School of Law by Students 
for Sensible Drug Policy.

As a drug case prosecutor, Simon said, "Every time I opened a file, I 
ruined a life. You can get over an addiction, but not a conviction."

He noted that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in 
the world, due largely to the war on drugs. The prohibition was 
declared by President Nixon in 1971 as a response to the large number 
of war veterans returning from Vietnam with heroin addictions, and 
supported by every administration since.

During his talk, Simon at one point focused on two forms of cocaine: 
crack and powder. They are essentially the same, although crack 
contains baking soda, is microwaved and is more addictive.

Black inner-city males prefer crack cocaine, while rich, white males 
are more likely to use powder, he said. So Congress imposed a harsh 
penalty for using crack and far lighter sentences for dealing or 
snorting powder, he said, adding, "Congress is full of rich, white males."

Today, one in every 55 white males is imprisoned for using cocaine, 
compared with one in nine black males, Simon said.

Moreover, since 1971, the purity of drugs has declined and overdoses 
have increased. And the number of narcotics-related homicides has 
risen, a direct consequence of the war on drugs, he said.

Besides the human cost of the prohibition, the economic cost has been 
astronomical - $1 trillion spent since 1971, now $70 billion 
annually, "with no return ... flushed down the toilet ... twice what 
we spend on education," he said.

In 2001, the nation of Portugal decriminalized drug use, opting 
instead to help users find jobs - even paying half their salaries. 
The government also offered housing, schooling and addiction 
services. Since then, Simon said, drug abuse in the Iberian country 
has dropped by half.

In Bernalillo County, as the D.A.'s point man before grand juries in 
narcotics cases, he was responsible for screening all drug-related 
charges for constitutionality and determining relevant and necessary 
charges. He said he learned that so much time and money spent on drug 
cases merely sucks resources from more pressing cases, such as crimes 
against children.
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