The Elephant in the Room - Part 2

The Elephant in the Room - Part 2
Posted by FoM on February 22, 2000 at 11:46:45 PT
By Michael Massing
Source: Salon Magazine
The political timidity surrounding the drug issue is breathtaking. It has been 15 years since Nancy Reagan first admonished Americans to "Just say no." In that period, the nation has grown markedly more tolerant on subjects ranging from gay rights and abortion to cohabitation, interracial dating and oral sex in the Oval Office. On drugs, however, the reign of terror prevails. 
When New York Gov. George Pataki proposed a modest revision of the state's notoriously strict Rockefeller drug laws, it was the Democrats -- possibly fearful of appearing weak-kneed -- who objected. Just as the charge of being "soft on communism" helped keep pols in line during the Cold War, the label "soft on drugs" enforces support for the drug war today.Happily, there are some signs of change. Voters in more than a half-dozen states have approved ballot measures to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes -- a clear sign of rebellion against the regime of Reefer Madness. In Arizona, a referendum to mandate low-level drug offenders to treatment instead of prison carried by a decisive margin, and the program has been so successful that even some law-enforcement officials have endorsed it. And Gary Johnson, the governor of New Mexico, has urged a radical overhaul of the nation's drug laws. So, even as national politicians fiddle in Washington, the fires of rebellion are beginning to burn at the grass roots.Progress toward ending the drug war, however, continues to run into one major obstacle: the lack of a clear alternative. If we are to end the war on drugs, what should take its place? The most frequent answer is legalization. If the drug war is failing, as it's commonly asserted, then legalizing drugs is the only alternative. On the surface, the idea of legalization has much appeal. If drugs were legalized, the whole noxious network of drug traffickers, smugglers, and money launderers stretching from the jungles of South America to the streets of our inner cities would suddenly disappear. Drug agents would no longer barge unannounced into apartments, teenagers would no longer be busted for smoking pot and black motorists would no longer be stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike.Yet legalization entails some real risks. If hard drugs like heroin or crack were suddenly sold in state stores or made available through prescription, use -- and abuse -- could increase. The end of Prohibition, for instance, resulted in a sharp rise in alcohol consumption, along with many unfortunate side effects. And, while no one wants to revive that disastrous experiment, it does suggest that the sudden legalization of an intoxicant can lead to a spurt in consumption. It is this prospect that makes many Americans recoil from the idea of legalizing drugs -- or at least hard ones. (A far more convincing case can be made for legalizing, or at least decriminalizing, marijuana, a much less toxic substance.) As long as legalization is seen as the main alternative to the drug war, the movement toward reform will stall.Fortunately, there is another way. It consists of viewing drugs as not a law-enforcement issue but a public-health one. Under such an approach, hard drugs would remain illegal, but, rather than make punishment our main weapon against them, we would rely on treatment, rehabilitation and prevention.Under a public-health approach, we would recognize that the main threat from drugs comes not from teenage pot smokers or adult casual users but from chronic, addicted users. Nationally, there are an estimated 4 million hardcore users of heroin, cocaine, crack and methamphetamine. While making up only 20 percent of all drug users in the country (the rest being occasional users), these hardcore users account for two-thirds to three-quarters of all the drugs consumed in the United States. They also account for most of the crime, medical emergencies, HIV transmission and child neglect associated with drugs.Currently, our main strategy for dealing with such users is arrest, prosecution and incarceration. A public-health approach would instead offer a network of services to help these addicts lick or control their habits. In particular, it would provide ready access to an array of treatment programs -- methadone clinics, residential centers, outpatient programs, detox units and short-term sobering-up stations. | Feb. 22, 2000Copyright  2000 The Elephant in the Room - Part 1 Articles:Beyond Legalization: It's Time for Realism Interview with Michael Massing Part 1 & 2
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on February 22, 2000 at 14:02:22 PT
The Elephant in the Room - Part 3
Here is Part 3
The Elephant in the Room - Part 3
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