Pubdate: Fri, 23 Oct 2015
Source: Hutchinson News, The (KS)
Copyright: 2015 The Hutchinson News
Author: Jason Probst, Hutchinson News editorial board

LEAP of faith

It is time to re-examine the war on drugs because it has failed

The idea of legalizing drugs as a method to combat drug abuse and 
drug-related crimes seems, at first blush, counterintuitive.

How could legalizing something as destructive as drugs serve to 
improve a persistent and growing problem? After decades of instilling 
in children the message that drug use is dangerous, how can we now 
change course with legalization?

Last week, attorney Brian Leininger, a former Wyandotte County 
prosecutor and former attorney for the Kansas Highway Patrol, 
explained the position of his group -- Law Enforcement Against 
Prohibition -- to the Hutchinson Drug Impact Task Force.

"Saying it's a failure probably gives it too much credit,"  he said 
of the decades' long war on drugs. "It's not hard to get whatever 
drug you want right now."

Even Hutchinson Police Chief Dick Heitschmidt and Howard Shipley, 
former head of the Reno County Drug Enforcement Unit, agreed that 
their efforts -- a combined 90 years in law enforcement between them 
- -- have done almost nothing to curb drug use in the community.

It is time to acknowledge all the signs of failure; it is time to try 
a different approach to the drug epidemic that plagues our 
communities, our state and our country.

Drugs haven't always been illegal. There was a time in American 
history when drug use and addiction were treated as a health concern. 
Addicts received medical care and, in some cases, prescriptions for 
low doses of drugs to control their addictions. Much like the 
"functioning alcoholics"  many of us know, those addicts held down 
jobs, maintained households and healthy relationships.

Making drugs illegal didn't stop drug use. It created a lucrative 
black market, where violence reigns, and it turned addiction or 
youthful experimentation into a crime. A teenager convicted of a drug 
crime is ineligible for financial aid for higher education -- 
altering the future of what might have been a bright student headed 
toward a prosperous future.

Drug prohibition is cost-prohibitive. It consumes the resources of 
police, prosecutors and our judicial system. Yet, the biggest price 
of prohibition can be found in the trail of lives ruined by a 
criminal conviction that leads to prison, probation, continued drug 
abuse, ostracism and ongoing criminal behavior.

We've seen this problem before. Prohibition of alcohol began in 1919, 
but problems with enforcement and the lure of liquor-related economic 
activity led to its repeal by 1933. Today, the industry is legal but 
heavily taxed and regulated. It now provides revenue, must meet 
quality standards, and alcohol is difficult for minors to purchase.

The logic around drug prohibition is faulty. In other areas -- such 
as gun control -- we generally reject the idea that prohibition of 
any sort would curb gun-related violence. We accept that most people 
obey the law and use their firearms responsibly. All efforts to curb 
access to guns are met with fierce resistance, yet that logic doesn't 
extend to other areas of law that are likewise questionable or have 
outlived their usefulness.

Heitschmidt is right. Prohibition might not be the only answer, but 
it must be part of the conversation. He's also right that drug 
prohibition isn't a law enforcement problem. It is a political 
problem because prohibition and incarceration are politically 
popular. Meanwhile, communities such as Hutchinson have little 
flexibility to draft alternative approaches to the unique issues 
locally -- restricted in their approach to the laws drafted by people 
in Topeka who want to tell voters they are tough on crime, even if 
their toughness has proved to be a failure.

And it has been an absolute failure. The antidrug campaigns ring 
hollow. Incarceration has swollen our prisons and consumed our tax 
dollars. The black market has given rise to violent criminals and 
forced police to respond with an alarming military approach. All the 
while, drug use -- and all its associated crime and pain -- continues 
unabated and undeterred by generations of prohibition.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom