Pubdate: Thur, 04 Mar 1999
Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Author: Tom Teepen


A motley of would-be drug policy reformers clustered under an umbrella
called the Network of Reform Groups issued a report yesterday in which they
proposed, shockingly, that we stop simply fighting the war on drugs and
start instead aiming actually to win it.

They would do that by up-ending current, manifestly failed priorities,
cutting the 66 percent of the anti-drug budget that goes to law enforcement
to 33 percent and splitting the rest evenly between treatment and strategies
against youth drug use.

As matters stand now, only 22 percent of the effort goes to treatment and
only 12 percent is targeted against drug use by the young.

Granted, these are the usual suspects, long-time drug policy critics from a
variety of angles (stop forfeitures, decriminalize pot and all that), but
they make a strong, very sober case.

It deserves a hearing. Alas, we seem instead about to go rampaging off again
into more of the same, with the drug czar, the vastly unimaginative Barry
McCaffery, telling Congress just last week that by turning up the heat,
he'll cut drug use in half by '07.

You read it here first: No, he won't.

And House Speaker Dennis Hastert is setting up a GOP Drug-Free America
Working Group. Do not expect enlightenment.

Expect calls for more cops, more firepower, more and longer mandatory
sentences and more prisons - in a nation that already trails only Russia in
the percentage of its own people that it locks up.

The relentless criminalization of drugs has mainly served - surprise - to
create a huge, deadly criminal subculture around drugs.

Despite already Draconian sentences, ugly interventions in drug- producing
and drug transfer nations and a deeply corrupting quasi-war along the
Mexican border, drug use among adults has diminished only slightly in the
'90s, and use among teens has gone up a tick.

Drug prices are going down and purity up - sure signs that supplies are

We are fighting this war mainly by taking ourselves prisoner.

Drug convictions produced 85 percent of the huge increase in the federal
prison population between 1985 and '95, in all a twelvefold increase since

The result is a comparable increase in unemployables and devastated family
formation. And because the most vulnerable drug activity is the indiscreet
street traffic among and by the poor - and because poverty still
disproportionately conflates with race - we are carefully assembling a
social time bomb.

By all means, lock up the big traffickers, but for most of the rest, a
decriminalized, more medicalized model that emphasizes prevention and
treatment would lower the social damage and, happy news, save money.

A RAND Corp. study finds that alternative strategies buy more drug-use
reduction per dollar than law enforcement does.

At some point, even the dippiest fool figures out that he can't get through
a brick wall by running into it harder each time he tries.

Just how badly are we willing to bruise ourselves before we start looking
for a way around this brick wall?

Tom Teepen is national correspondent for Cox Newspapers. He is based in
Atlanta, Ga.

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