HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html There's More To Drugs Than 'Just Say No'
Pubdate: Sun, 07 Nov 1999
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Copyright: 1999 Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Author:  Gil Puder, Special To The Post-Intelligencer
Note:  The author is a decorated 18-year veteran of the Vancouver, B.C.,
Police Department. His book, "Crossfire: A Street Cop's Stand Against
Violence, Corruption and the War on Drugs," is scheduled for publication by
Douglas and McIntyre next year.


The Republican governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, recently made an
astounding public statement. He said America's war on drugs is a
multibillion-dollar failure, that it has unjustifiably jailed
thousands of people while lying about the dangers of marijuana, and
that many illegal drugs should be legalized and strictly regulated.

Johnson is now the highest-ranking elected official in the United
States to say, in effect, "The emperor has no clothes." I've spent my
career in law enforcement, and I believe Johnson is absolutely right.

In 1984 an armed heroin addict robbed a bank. I fired a fatal round
that cost that man his life. Two years later, another junkie with a
gun took the life of my friend, Sgt. Larry Young. More recently, I had
to tell a woman that her son had died from a drug overdose. The
experience was devastating -- not only for her, but for me, as well. I
don't dislike the drug problem; I hate it.

Yet, while the governments of both our countries spend billions of our
tax dollars every year fighting the so-called war on drugs, the
shameful truth is, it hasn't worked. It never will. I don't want to
lose another friend or bring more mothers the same bad news. It's time
for all of us to wake up.

When I deliver this message to local business leaders at Seattle
Downtown Rotary Club's luncheon on Nov. 17, I expect many to be
apprehensive. But perhaps the need for a change in policy will begin
to sink in when my co-speaker, Dr. Alonzo Plough, director of Public
Health-Seattle and King County, outlines the increasing gravity of the

With some 10,000 addicts, King County has one of the worst heroin
problems in America, and it's getting worse. Last year, according to
data compiled by the state Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, more
people died in King County from heroin-involved overdoses than died in
motor vehicle crashes.

Who am I to be talking about your problems? Someone who recognizes
we've got plenty of our own in Canada. In my city, Vancouver, B.C.,
residents are dying from drug overdoses at the rate of about four a
week. An injection-drug HIV epidemic has drawn international attention
to our neighborhood known as the Downtown Eastside. I know that good
neighbors should tend to their own problems first, but this is a
common problem, and I believe good friends should look for shared solutions.

Your neighborhoods and mine are under siege. Being a street cop,
witnessing the tragedy firsthand, I've become convinced that drug
prohibition -- not drugs themselves -- are driving the HIV epidemic
and the systemic crime that has swamped our criminal justice systems.
Unfortunately, this is nearly impossible to admit if you're a
politician who built your "law and order" image by vilifying drugs and
demonizing addicts as the epitome of moral decay.

Yet "rabid junkie" stereotypes are seldom reality -- certainly not the
housewife addicted to prescription painkillers or the 14-year-old boy
shot at a Vancouver-area high school.

People who have heavily invested in the status quo chant mantras of
zero tolerance mandatory minimum sentences while both the supply and
demand for drugs increases and jails burst at the seams. For 80 years,
we've waged the war on drugs with a central focus -- criminal
sanctions. Anyone who thinks we're winning has their eyes closed, or
simply doesn't want to see.

I know there's no silver bullet for this monster, but there are more
effective solutions.

First, we must accept reality: Drugs, including alcohol and tobacco,
are here today. Not all drug users are abusers, and not all abusers
become addicts. Once we acknowledge these fundamental truths, the
responsible approach for dealing with drugs becomes clear -- shift me
of our resources away from interdiction and punishment toward
treatment and education.

Next, we must understand that drug addiction is, above all, a medical
and public health issue. Like alcoholism, it is a form of disease that
an be successfully treated to reduce harm to society.

Crime must be punished; violent crime and crimes against children must
be punished severely. But we could dramatically reduce drug-related
crime and its horrendous human and financial costs by decriminalizing
and strictly regulating drug use.

The benefits of such reform would be immediate. Windfall savings on
criminal justice dollars could be plowed into health care and
rehabilitation, which are the only methods proven to correct substance

Not every drug should be treated the same. The sale or distribution to
children, as well as trafficking, importation and exporting, should
remain crimes, with perhaps even stronger penalties. By focusing law
enforcement on these areas, police efforts might actually make a difference.

Finally, the messages we send our children should be based on facts,
loving concern and useful guidance, and not on fear, threats and
propaganda. Watching a televised documentary on drug abuse, including
disturbing images of a man killed by his father, my 9-year-old son
listened to addicts explain the disorder ruining their lives. Not once
did he ask his father, the cop, why these criminals weren't in jail.
His advice to me was, "Dad, these people are sick." Untainted by a
lifetime of misinformation, our kids understand this problem better
than many adults.

This is the message we should be sending: Drug abuse is unhealthy and
wrong. We can't stop adults from getting drugs -- we only fooled
ourselves in thinking that we could. We'll teach you how devastating
drugs can be. If you make the wrong choice, we'll help you make better
ones. But if you choose to use drugs, we will not allow you to harm
others, or to make them available to children, and we'll punish you
severely if you do so.

That's a message that makes a lot more sense than "just say no." And,
it's a message our children are far more likely to believe.
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