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It s Well-Past The Time To Decriminalize Drugs

Found: Sun Aug 29 18:33:08 2004 PDT
Webpage: [translate]
Author: Gary Krasner

[ topical analysis ]    propaganda analysis
It's Well-Past The Time To Decriminalize Drugs - Gary Krasner


It's Well-Past The Time To Decriminalize Drugs

By Gary Krasner (06/19/2004)

I thought I would tackle an issue in which conventional political partisans do not line up evenly. There may be as many Republicans who support drug decriminalization as there are Democrats who feel similarly. While those who desire drug decriminalization may be in the minority, we normally don't see this level of cross-party consensus on most issues. On that basis alone, it might seem that this is an issue that has appeal on its merits and represents an efficacious rationale for reforming a failed status quo policy.

Despite the low degree of party partisanship, this issue still attracts a good share of shameless sloganeering that decriminalization 'sends the wrong message to kids'; cheap political grandstanding that drug abuse will increase; self-righteous sermons about the immorality of permitting drug use; embellishments that drugs will be as available as cigarettes or liquor; race peddling by claiming that minorities will be most adversely affected; and misstatements of fact that drug abuse has declined.

Let's examine a common argument from liberal opponents of decriminalization: That drug dealing has devastated their communities and increased crime. Let's admit to some self-evident facts. First, that drug abusers are "criminals" solely as an artifact of the controlled substances laws: Either because they're caught using drugs, or because of the high cost of drugs that forces users to rob, steal, or prostitute themselves. The high cost of drugs is itself solely an artifact of it's illicit status!

Let's also admit that drug dealers are not in business to hurt people. They're in it for the money. The harm that drugs do to their clients is an incidental matter to them. They're on the street corner selling drugs because drugs can be sold at high profit margins, because it's a black market product (no pun). If drugs can be obtained at the pharmacy with a prescription or permit, then drug dealers will be gone from the street. Gang and mob violence over the control of the streets where drugs are sold would also disappear.

White Man in Harlem

It was particularly ironic that former President Clinton rented his office in Harlem, as it was he and other vocal opponents of decriminalization who successfully used race and drugs as a wedge issue solely for political gain. The following vignette also represents how cynical and decadent our body politic and (what amounts to) discourse has become as a result of the current drug policy:

The disparity in sentencing for possession of cocaine is far greater than for heroin. And since the less expensive cocaine is used in a greater ratio by blacks, it has resulted in more convicted blacks going to prison for disproportionately longer periods than for the same offense committed by whites selling or using heroin.

Instead of seeking to resolve this inequity, President Clinton used it as a racial wedge issue. In his campaign for re-election, President Clinton frequently implied--and echoed by black Democratic members of Congress--that the disparity in these drug penalties was created by racially prejudiced Republicans.

In reality, these drug penalties were originally intended to save black and poor communities from the ravages of crack-cocaine. In the early 1980s, (anti-decriminalization advocate) Congressman Charles Rangel and the Congressional Black Caucus were alarmed by the adverse effects that these cheap drugs had on their neighborhoods, and consequently had forcefully lobbied for stiffer penalties for the sale and possession of cocaine.

They got what they wanted. And 10 years later, in a political environment where perception and preconception are reality, the issue was tailor-made for Clinton.

If anyone doubted that it was nothing more than a wedge issue for Clinton, such doubts were eliminated by the time of his second term as President. Because by then, Congress approved more equitable sentencing guidelines. And the punch-line? Clinton vetoed it(!)--despite the fact that it was a politically safe time (in his second term) for him to enact it.

It doesn't end there. One of the (record number of) white men Clinton pardoned was a man who was convicted for possessing 800 pounds of cocaine, presumably destined for a neighborhood like Harlem. He was pardoned because his father was a large contributor to the Democratic Party.

Clinton had always counted on the African-American community whenever he got into trouble. That move he made into Harlem wasn't his first choice. It was damage control for the fallout from the pardons. But did Harlem really need another "dealer" living there?

Imagine a World

As a Natural Hygienist, I haven't taken so much as an aspirin in 35 years. My dentist is still amazed that I refused all anesthesia when he installed crowns for me several years ago. So I don't have any pro-drug agenda. My agenda is just good public policy.

Decriminalization of illicit drugs would lead to the following:

-- Virtually overnight, the price of formerly controlled substances would plummet. All street crime, money laundering, gang violence, (etc.), and the corresponding corruption in law enforcement that involves drugs, would disappear. The power of organized crime and drug cartels would decline drastically, with beneficial ripple effects throughout our society. The greatest improvement will be seen in impoverished communities. Street dealers will be gone. So will be maximum minimum sentences, that have led to lengthy and costly (to the taxpayers) incarceration of non-violent offenders, that has exacerbated the breakdown of families and communities.

-- Based upon past experience (prohibition of alcohol), we can expect a slight and temporary rise in drug abuse, which would eventually decline and level off, partly because of more robust and better-funded prevention programs (from the billions of dollars saved from drug enforcement that's no longer needed), and also because studies indicate there's a percentage of "addictive personalities" who will seek out drugs whether they're legal or illegal. Most of us, for example, will not use recreational drugs once they're decriminalized.

-- People addicted to drugs would be registered with the government and encouraged to detoxify. In the meantime, the substances that we provide addicts will be less potent and free of harmful contaminants. Pharmaceutical companies would make safer substances to wean abusers off of the most addictive and psychoactive substances. Again, the billions formerly spent on drug enforcement could fund all this. (Over $20 annually at the federal level alone.)

The only way societies have been able to control the transactions of items in great demand was by controlling its legal commerce, and never through total prohibition. Prohibition forces the commerce underground and makes it invisible. It never stops it. Supply inevitably meets demand. Always.

Prohibition also poses special problems for open societies like ours. The regulators operate in the open, while the violators operate in secret, without any rules. The former are vulnerable to bribery; their families threatened; etc. Unless we're prepared to inaugurate a police state, with secret trials, and police, prosecutors, jurists and jurors forced to wear masks to conceal their identities (for their own safety), all notions of effective drug enforcement and interdiction is a false promise.

Let's drop the facade that we may lose "respect for law" or that we risk "tearing apart the moral fabric of our society". We can also ignore the "deadheads" that favor this. Strictly from a rational public policy standpoint, decriminalizing drugs is a no-brainer (no pun).

Gary Krasner grew up in the Bronx in the 50's through the 70's. He moved to Queens in 1975 after obtaining a B.S. degree in Psychology from CCNY. Today, Mr. Krasner works as a computer graphics artist by day. By night he runs Coalition For Informed Choice, a non-partisan organization that promotes personal freedom of choice in decisions involving our health.

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