HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html European Experience Shows Legalizing Drugs
Pubdate: Fri, 11 Oct 2002
Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)
Copyright: 2002 St. Paul Pioneer Press
Author: Asa Hutchinson
Note: Hutchinson is director of the Drug Enforcement Administration.


On a recent summer tour through south London, I saw the future of drug 
legalization. A young couple injected heroin inside the filthy ruins of an 
abandoned building. In this working-class neighborhood, residents weave in 
and out of crowded sidewalks, trying to avoid making eye contact with 
dealers who openly push heroin, marijuana and crack.

Scotland Yard aggressively targets international drug traffickers, and I 
applaud its strong overall anti-drug policy. But last year, a local police 
commander initiated a pilot program in which people caught possessing 
marijuana are warned rather than arrested. Often, they're just ignored. In 
news reports and my interviews, residents criticize the program for 
bringing more drug dealers, more petty criminals and more drug use.

The one-year Lambeth pilot ended Aug. 1, but Britain has announced it will 
relax the country's marijuana laws. That move has given fuel to those in 
the United States who believe we should follow suit. Some have called for 
the outright legalization of marijuana. People could buy dope over the 
counter, as they do in the red-light district of Amsterdam.

What these legalization advocates do not talk about are the disturbing 
problems that people in Lambeth lived with every day. They ignore the sad 
misery of young people addicted to drugs. They ignore the serious problems 
that countries such as the Netherlands are experiencing - problems that are 
leading them to reconsider their own liberal drug laws.

The culture of drug use and acceptance in the Netherlands has played a role 
in that country's becoming the world's top producer of Ecstasy. It's 
interesting that, in a 2001 study, the British Home Office found that 
violent crime and property crime increased in the late 1990s in every 
wealthy country except the United States. No doubt effective drug 
enforcement had a part in declining crime in the United States.

Maybe it's time Europeans looked to America's drug policy as their model. 
Our approach - tough drug laws coupled with effective education programs 
and compassionate treatment - is having success. It's a great myth that 
there's been no progress in our anti-drug effort. To the contrary, there's 
been remarkable success. Overall drug use in the United States is down by 
more than a third since the late 1970s. That's 9.5 million fewer people 
using illegal drugs. We have reduced cocaine use by an astounding 70 
percent in the past 15 years.

This is not to say we have done enough. Drugs are still readily available, 
and a new National Household Survey on Drug Abuse shows that American kids 
are increasingly using drugs such as Ecstasy. As long as we have despair, 
poverty and frustration, as long as we have teenage rebellion, we're going 
to have problems with drugs. But we must keep in mind our success and also 
keep some perspective about U.S. drug use. Less than 5 percent of the 
population uses illegal drugs. That's 16 million regular users of all 
illegal drugs, compared with 66 million tobacco users and 109 million 
alcohol users.

Emerging drug threats such as Ecstasy and methamphetamine are going to 
require even more resolve and innovation. We need a renewed dedication by 
all Americans to help our kids stay away from the misery and addiction of 

In fighting drugs, we do have new ideas: from drug courts to community 
coalitions; from more investment in education to more effective treatment; 
from drug testing in the workplace to drug counselors in schools. These are 
ideas that work.

What doesn't work is legalization. In 1975, Alaska's Supreme Court held 
that under that state's constitution, an adult could possess marijuana for 
personal consumption at home.

The court's ruling became a green light for marijuana use. A 1988 
University of Alaska survey showed that the state's teenagers used 
marijuana at a rate more than twice the national average for their age 
group. The report also showed a frequency of marijuana use that suggested 
it wasn't experimental but was a well-incorporated practice for teens.

Fed up with this dangerous experiment, Alaska's residents voted in 1990 to 
recriminalize the possession of marijuana. But 15 years of legalization 
left its mark - increased drug use by a generation of our youth.

Legalizing drugs is simply a surrender. It's giving up on the hope of a 
drug-free future for our next generation. It's writing off those still in 
the grip of addiction and despair. Isn't every life worth fighting for?
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