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The Drug Legalization Debate

From: Orange County Voices section of the Los Angeles Times
September 22, 1996

It's Time for New Battle Plan in the Losing War on Drugs

by Judge James P. Gray

Our great country is reeling from self inflicted wounds resulting from our
current failed "war on drugs." It is clear that we are not in better shape
today than we were five years ago regarding drug use and abuse and all of
the crime and misery that accompany them. Unless we change our approach,
we can have no legitimate expectation that we will be in better shape next
year than we are today.
However, we will not pursue change until we realize, as a country, that it
is all right to talk about this issue-and that just because we talk about
the possibility of changing our drug policy does not mean that we condone
drug use or abuse.
During the election season, let us as voters challenge all candidates for
all offices to take a fresh and objective look at our most basic drug
policy assumptions and recommend changes based upon the evidence. Let us
tell all candidates in the clearest of terms that it is not only all right,
but it is essential to discuss this critical issue openly fully.
In the "war on drugs," victory is now literally being viewed as slowing
down the pace of defeat. Our present policy has made cocaine the most
lucrative crop in the history of mankind. It has made marijuana the most
lucrative crop in California, easily outdistancing the second-leading crop,
which is corn.
Our present policy is directly funneling tens of billions of dollars per
year into organized crime, with all of its accompanying violence and
corruption both in our country and around the world. Our present policy is
directly causing our children in the inner cities and virtually everywhere
else to have drug dealers as their role models, instead of people who have
gotten their education and worked hard to be successful.
Our present policy has at the same time both increased street crime and
diverted scarce resources away from its prosecution. Our present policy
has directly spawned a cycle of hostility by the incarceration of vastly
disproportionate numbers of minority groups. And our present policy is
directly responsible for medical doctors being unable to prescribe
appropriate medications for their patients who are either in pain or are
suffering from a number of devastating diseases.
If there is any universal agreement in any area of drug policy, it is that
the education of our young and our not so young people is critically
important in combating drug abuse, and that to an appreciable degree for
non-addicted users, it works. Social pressure is another effective
deterrent to drug abuse, as is drug treatment, which has been determined by
the Rand Corp. in a 1994 study to be seven times more effective than drug
prosecution, even for addicted drug users.
Similarly, education. social pressure and treatment have been effective in
decreasing the use of other dangerous and sometimes addictive drugs, such
as alcohol and tobacco-even though these drugs are not illegal for adults.
It may be that the recently documented increased use of marijuana by
teenagers, and the frustration and resignation shown by their parents, has
resulted from less emphasis upon drug education. If so, maybe we should at
least consider investing our increasingly scarce resources where they will
be most productive, instead of routinely continuing to spend enormous and
never-ending tax dollars on the incarceration of nonviolent drug users.
All responsible citizens understand the necessity of holding people
accountable for their actions. However, our citizens are becoming
increasingly aware that the criminal justice system is simply not able to
make meaningful progress in this area because of the obscene profits to be
made in selling illegal drugs.
As a result, thousands of Americans such as Dr. Milton Friedman, former
Secretary of State George Shultz, Mayor Kurt Schmoke of Baltimore and
former San Jose Chief of Police Joseph McNamara have signed a resolution
calling for the investigation of change by a neutral commission.
This resolution actually was passed by Congress and signed into law by
President Clinton as a part of the recent crime bill; however, it has been
widely ignored since that time. The signatories of the resolution include
large numbers of judges; civic, business and religious leaders; probation
officers and prison officials, medical doctors, teachers and counselors.
There is wide support for the investigation of change-our present policy
simply will not stand scrutiny.
We are the ones who elect our governmental officers, so the responsibility
for their silence and inaction is ours to bear. However, this can be
changed. Let all candidates know that we voters understand that the honest
exchange of information is the only way we will begin to reduce the
continuing harm wrought by these dangerous drugs in our country. Tell them
we demand that the law be followed and the neutral commission be appointed.
If we the voters demand that these important issues be discussed, our
leaders will follow.

James P. Gray is a judge of the Superior Court in Santa Ana, Ca.

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