Monday, May 11, 2009

Antiquated Drug Laws Cost Us Plenty

by Diane Dimond

Come sit down with me. Let’s have a chat - a meaningful and productive chat. You comfortable, you want some tea?

Here’s what I’m thinking. With all this change in the air, this idea that we really can shake up the status quo and attack our nation’s problems from a different angle - we probably should take a look at our drug laws. Don’t you think?

Remember back in 1969 when President Nixon declared a “War on Drugs”? We were going to wipe out the illegal drug trade that stopped so many of us from being productive citizens! Wow, that sure sounded like a great plan. But, here we are 40 years later and we’re still struggling with what to do about those who either sell or get addicted to illegal drugs.

It’s important to make the distinction here. Drug addicts vs. drug dealers. The first are surely breaking the law but no one aspires to become an addict, right? They’re sick and in need of medical and mental health attention. The dealers, of course, are felons making loads of money off the weak. Yet we lock up both groups as if they are the same kind of criminals. That doesn’t seem right.

Now, I don’t want to make this a political conversation, you know, Democrats vs. Republicans, liberal vs. conservative. I want to talk about what’s best for our country, our economically strapped country.

Since that “War on Drugs” declaration we’ve gone way past the billion dollar mark to somewhere in the trillion dollar area. I read the other day that it costs us a collective 69 billion dollars each year to keep up this war. Why do we keep doing the same things over and over if it’s not getting rid of the problem?

It costs society so much in terms of court and prison costs, lost productivity and damage to families. So sad, isn’t it?

We’ve spent years tinkering with prison rehabilitation for convicted addicts. There’s been no great breakthrough. Maybe we need special hospitals just for them. I wonder if we could do that for less than 69 billion a year? As for the drug dealers, well, we keep slapping them with mandatory and harsh sentences and as fast as we lock ‘em up there are more arrested every day. Our prisons are bursting at the seams!

We’ve got a federal Drug Enforcement Administration and each state has a drug task force, and local law enforcement has undercover operations to try to smoke out the bad guys. Drugs continue to stream across our borders, mostly from Mexico but also from Canada. Countless homegrown drug labs dot the country’s landscape. The problem never seems to end. We don’t have a handle on it – it has a handle on us!

You know, there’s a group of 11 thousand law enforcement types, called L.E.A.P., Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, that says if we just legalized all drugs the massive profit margin would disappear. They liken it to 1933 when the prohibition on booze stopped and put Al Capone out of the bootlegging business. L.E.A.P. thinks drug kingpins would find the government taxes and regulations so stiff they’d just fold their tents.

I’ll have to have another cup of tea and think about that. I don’t think I’m for legalizing all drugs. But, it sure would be a tempting new tax revenue stream, wouldn’t it?

Look, I don’t pretend to be smart enough to figure out the whole big national drug problem but, you know, we’ve got to start somewhere. I’ve been thinking that one way to cut down our costs is to weed out (pardon the pun) those 872,720 Americans who the FBI says were arrested for marijuana in 2007. There might have been a million marijuana arrests last year – the figures aren’t in yet.

I mean who are we kidding? Millions of Americans admit they’ve smoked grass, ganja, pot - whatever you want to call it – including at least two of our Presidents, CEO’s of top companies, Olympic athletes and countless other productive members of our society. Spending all this money to arrest and prosecute these cases seems to be getting us nowhere. Isn’t it weird that we approve using marijuana for medical purposes but not for those who’d like to substitute it for a glass of vodka once or twice a week?

Yep, that’s what I’m thinkin’. We have to start somewhere and so we might as well de-criminalize things for all those Americans who, despite the law, are smoking marijuana anyway.

It sure is nice to be able to chat about this without someone going off accusing the other of being a kook or a commie or some other name. Want some more tea?

Now, let’s talk about changing the I.R.S. …


Kat said...

You go girl, and yes I will have another cup of tea!!! I have been saying for years (at least 30 and mostly to myself) if they made marijuana legal it would take the profit out of it, and open up beds in our jails and prisons for the true 'bad guys'.

FleaStiff said...

The danger is in letting anyone erode the Anti-Drug Culture that supports the police, prosecutor, prison construction, prion staffing systems.
If drugs are not illegal, what are you going to do with all those cops, lawyers and judges?
Its the unlawfulness of the drus that supports the price and drives out the dealer's competition.
In the sixties you had a bunch of unorganized and unarmed hippies in a pot trade with low prices now you got gangs and guns and everything is organized with high prices. You think that transition would have taken place if things were legal?

Leah said...

As far as I am concerned, they can make cigarettes and alcohol illegal as well.

California Girl said...

Sure lets legalize it all. They are already killing people on the roads with booze and prescription drugs but what the hell, lets raise taxes from it. People aren't stupid enough as it is.
You omitted Reagan's part in the drug world too. Think that ought to be listed. Good Republicans always seem to forget this part.

Soobs said...

I'm always amazed when supposedly educated people want to legalize drugs. I'm also amazed when I hear the same old line that "pot doesn't make violent offenders." Illegal drugs cause much more pain, emotionally, physically and financially, to the children of users, the neighbors of users, the community of users.

Sure, let's legalize everything. But you better make sure that gun laws are relaxed, because you're gonna have even MORE problems after you do so.

The "dumbing down" of society, on another level. Why not increase the expectations of people, rather than lower them to the lowest common denominator? As to treatment rather than incarceration....there are plenty of treatment centers NOW. Addicts don't need to wait to be arrested to qualify. The problem is that they don't WANT the help already available. If they did, they'd already seek it.

FleaStiff said...

Actually it is not quite that easy to get into a treatment center and addicts in taking the easy way out of their problems are already demonstrating that they are unlikely to make difficult choices in life.
The primary problem is that most treatment programs don't work and even those that do work, simply dump their graduates right back into their same social and economic system. Its like being graduated from Alcoholics Anonymous and then going back to your apartment that is right next to a bar. It ain't gonna work out!

Soobs said...

Beating addiction isn't about removing ALL temptation. It's about making better choices, especially when you already know the consequences. And if it isn't working now, what makes anyone think it will work "better" when the judge sends them into treatment rather than incarceration? Treatment can only work when the addict themselves WANT to stop.

AA meetings are free.

FleaStiff said...

An endless parade of AA meetings would be enough of an empty life to drive me to drink!

Leah said...

The problem with treatment centers is that they cost too damn much and it is not very likely you can change a person in 30 days when they have been drinking and drugging for 30 years. It just doesn't work that way.

Diane Fanning said...

Great piece, Diane. We lost the war on drugs a long time ago. It's time to remember that if we always do what we've always done, we'll always get what we've always gotten. It took us fewer years to realize that alcohol prohibition was an aprroach that just gave power to the criminals but did nothing to stop drinking.

Anonymous said...

Could we all stop discussing legalisation as if it were a case of legalising everything? Most people who support at are in favour of legalising pot/hashish/etc, which by all accounts are more likely to make people docile and hungry than violent. This was also the drug under discussion earlier with more than 800,000 arrests in 2007 and possibly as many as a million this year.

I have not heard anybody argue sincerely for making heroin or neth legal, - or PCP. That is a strawman generally suggested by the people who are against legalising pot.

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