Pubdate: Mon, 26 Jul 1999
Date: 07/26/1999
Source: Legal Times
Author: Henry Cohen

To the editor:

Stuart Taylor Jr.'s "Casualties of the Drug War" "Points of View, "
July 19, 1999, Page 18 , makes an eloquent case for eliminating
mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders.

He fails to notice, however, that his excellent arguments also make
the case for ending drug prohibition. If it is wrong to impose on
someone a mandatory 10-year sentence for a nonviolent, victimless
crime, then it is proportionately wrong to impose a lesser
non-mandatory sentence.

The vast majority of murders and other felonies in the United States
are caused by the drug laws, not by drugs.

Ending drug prohibition would cause the price of drugs to plummet,
eliminating the need for addicts to commit crimes to pay for them, and
eliminating the black market that leads to innocent bystanders getting
shot in the inner city, not to mention impure drugs and needles being

As it seems that people who want drugs can get them, and will continue
to be able to get them no matter how much money we waste on the drug
war, it seems unlikely that making drugs freely available would
significantly increase the number of addicts.

If we truly wanted to reduce the number of drug addicts, we would use
the money we waste on the drug war to reduce class sizes in the public

If ending drug prohibition did increase the number of addicts, at
least the people who choose to use drugs would be hurting only
themselves, and would not, in order to support their habits, have to
make the rest of us crime victims.

And it would be preferable for addicts to hurt themselves than to have
the government ruin their lives--usually more thoroughly than drugs
do-- through drug prohibition. Many addicts, with a regular supply of
drugs, regulated by the government for purity, and with clean needles,
could function in society, holding down jobs and paying taxes, and not
spreading AIDS. With drug prohibition, however, we spend about $30,000
per year to keep an addict in prison, where addicts learn to become
real criminals. We burden them with criminal records, which helps make
them unemployable when they are released, which, in turn, gives them
an incentive to put their new criminal skills to use until we lock
them up again.

There is another reason to end drug prohibition. If we have a
constitutional right to use condoms and to have abortions, then surely
we have a constitutional right to ingest whatever plants we wish.
There is no intellectually honest way not to apply Griswold v.
Connecticut and its progeny to encompass the right to use drugs.

If the government has the power to lock us up for using drugs of which
it disapproves, then it has the power to lock us up for any bad habit
or dangerous activity.

It would have the power to regiment virtually every moment of our
personal lives, directing us, upon threat of imprisonment, not to
smoke or drink, not to skip breakfast (and what to eat), when to carry
an umbrella or wear a scarf, not to ski or fly small planes, or
anything else it deemed bad for us (except matters protected by the
First Amendment).

Why do we tolerate such an intrusion in the area of drugs that we
would not tolerate with respect to other bad habits?

The answer is simply that the victims of drug prohibition are
predominantly black. It is not conscious racism at work, but rather a
failure to recognize that inner-city drug addicts are human beings and
deserve respect as such, and that many of us who did not grow up in
the inner city would have become addicts if we had. In the end, drug
prohibition is the product of arrogance.

Baltimore, Md.