Pubdate: Thu, 05 Mar 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Mike Dingman
Note: Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in 
Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, 
studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s.


Politicians, pundits and everybody else spend a lot of time trying to 
solve problems. Two sides argue their points, usually ad nauseam, and 
generally very little change actually happens. We blame this on 
gridlock and pat ourselves on our backs knowing that if we could 
unilaterally institute change, things would be better.

Quite often, that is probably the case. Gridlock is frequently the 
problem of progress. If only we could institute this new idea, we 
could fix a particular problem. Sometimes however, there is a 
different culprit.

The problem is that our leaders get stuck into perfectly constructed 
boxes, and it is hard for them to see any way but the way that 
something has been done before. That is how we get funding formulas 
and mandatory minimum sentences. Legislation takes away the ability 
for people in power to think dynamically and make decisions in a 
timely manner that could make a real difference.

On the show "Lockup" on MSNBC, a young African-American man who was 
serving a 90-day shock incarceration period was asked by one of the 
correctional officers "are you nervous?" He answered "No, not 
really." The officer, confused, said "Why not, you're in with 
murderers, gang members and hardcore thugs." The kid looked at him 
and said, "That's on the streets too man, that's my everyday life."

That interaction illustrates the issues that so many at various 
levels of power lack the ability to see through various perspectives. 
They get caught up in believing that everybody else sees the world 
through the same lens, or perhaps more accurately that there is only 
one lens through which to see the world.

It's the same manner in which our leaders look at drug abuse. Can 
anyone of us stand up and with a straight face declare that the war 
on drugs has worked? Can anyone stand there and tell us that the 
current stance we take on drugs is the correct one?

Those in power in this country view drug addicts as criminals. 
Mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses are constantly on the 
rise. We make felons out of addicts under the assumption that it will 
prevent future addicts, but this approach has never worked. Drug 
treatment is difficult to find and when available, it is generally very costly.

When these felons -- even those whose crimes amount to nothing more 
than possession for personal use -- finally do try to clean up it 
becomes difficult for them to become employed or find a place to call 
their own because of their criminal history. This leads them either 
to the welfare and unemployment rolls or crawling back to the 
addiction that they tried to conquer -- despite the lack of help from society.

The nation of Portugal decided to think differently. Rather than 
prosecuting drug users Portugal decriminalized all drugs. Ten years 
later, according to an article on, drug abuse was down by half.

Forbes contributor Erik Kain reported, "Currently 40,000 people in 
Portugal are being treated for drug abuse. This is a far cheaper, far 
more humane way to tackle the problem. Rather than locking up 100,000 
criminals, the Portuguese are working to cure 40,000 patients and 
fine-tuning a whole new canon of drug treatment knowledge at the same time."

The problem is not just in these issues, it's the way we go about 
thinking: Drugs are bad, so drug users must be bad people. Gang 
members and hardcore thugs scare me, so they should scare a kid from 
those same streets.

It's time for a fundamental change in the way we think. Many people 
say, "Think outside the box." That phrase has become so cliche I 
don't even know what it means anymore. We don't need to think outside 
the box, we need to eliminate the box altogether.

The advent of the two-party system and two-sided debate have limited 
the scope by which we are able to debate. The concept of debate 
itself is partly to blame. Why should we debate ideas and concepts 
when we can discuss them? Why have debates rather than forums where 
stakeholders from a wide variety of perspectives can add their views 
to the dialogue.

Would Portugal's drug policy work in the United States? There is no 
way to know because we haven't tried it. It's worked in Portugal. 
People who desire treatment are now being treated, and it costs less 
than incarcerating them. What will work best in the U.S.? It depends. 
Clearly treatment is an important component, but for the specific 
plan -- maybe we should invite to the table the most important 
stakeholders in this issue -- the addicts, both those currently 
suffering and those who have conquered their addictions.

The next revolution in our society won't be fought with tanks and 
guns; it won't be fought over territory and there won't be 
astronomical death tolls. Our next revolution will be the insurgency of ideas.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom