State Attorney General and Lawmakers Stir Up Moral Panic over Meth!
By Chuck Armsbury, editor of The Razor Wire
Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, Republican State Senator Jim Hargrove and other Olympia lawmakers have slammed together another war on methamphetamine bill, hurriedly introducing a hodgepodge of expensive, mostly punitive, proposals. Reciting a familiar refrain of hysteria about one drug, McKenna called for tougher penalties and some additional treatment on January 16, 2006.
Federal cutbacks for drug law enforcement is the primary reason why McKenna wants Washington taxpayers to panic, pay up and shoulder task force expenses once covered by federal funds. If McKenna has it his way in the legislature and governor's office, SB 6239 signed into law would require citizens of Washington State to pick up an estimated tab of about $4 million a year to replace the federal cuts. Sen. Stephen Johnson, another SB 6239 backer, estimates total costs to be around $10 million a year, but there hasn't been any formal financial analysis done -- even at this late date. Historically, lots of bad drug legislation is passed this way -- without thinking of the costs or effectiveness of new law.
SB 6239 along with its companion House Bill 2712, would give special grants to targeted rural counties for law enforcement spending, first, and treatment purposes second. Here again, one wonders how true is it, in fact, that only government threats and force cause addicts to choose treatment? Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille are counties named as most eligible in news reports.
SB 6239, (as other bills listed in the contents bar) would add more prison time to meth prisoners' sentences by decreasing their "good time." Questions not yet asked include how the State Department of Corrections' officials feel about adding prison time to one particular group of illegal drug users? Attorney General McKenna hasn't yet told the public what to expect if state health officers begin executing search warrants to inspect meth labs, a key provision of SB 6239. Will these public health officers carry firearms? Do we want them to? Do they want to be police officers?
Is Washington State's renewed war on drugs really about solving the problems associated with methamphetamine abuse? Or are these new bills just more social disposal of a small class of addicted people who need mandatory compassion and treatment?
Echoing what other lawmakers may be feeling, Sen. Mike Carrell told the committee he's frustrated that meth bills keep coming before the Legislature without apparent effect. "Are we seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?" said Carrell in published news reports.
What surely troubles Carrell and other ambivalent lawmakers is the growing body of knowledge showing that harsh drug laws haven't yet succeeded in controlling illegal drug production -- still making profits despite decades of drug prohibition and zero tolerance. Police officials supporting McKenna and Hargrove also admit sheepishly that new laws restricting over the counter sales of pseudoephedrine (used for making homemade meth) have not stopped meth availability, but merely shifted meth production into professional drug gang operations outside US borders.
SB 6239 includes provisions to fund prison treatment for meth addicts, estimated to cost about $2 million a year for 100 beds. But who decided prisons were the best places to treat addiction, a medically recognized disease? McKenna and Hargrove haven't explained publicly why meth addicts, after prison hospitalization, should serve more time than other incarcerated people. Isn't it about time to defend and uphold common sense, not force, as the guiding principle for creating and enforcing new drug laws?
Hard as it is to fathom, after 20 years of mandatory and other determinate sentencing, there has not been a reduced demand for illicit drugs. A fiscally sound drug policy, after 30 year's failure, would not be asking citizens to pay for more failure. Treatment works and is seven times cheaper than incarceration. Washington State woefully underfunds treatment for those not insured, a number of citizens increasing daily. Sensible legislation that focuses on the social problems of meth would increase treatment above all other programs.
Calling for more prisons when services to children, seniors, and the mentally ill are being cut, or losing funding entirely, is irresponsible government. Filling far off prisons, mostly with people who have a drug problem, followed by re-entry of institutionalized people who have lost all family ties, gives taxpayers bigger problems, not solutions.
Demand they explore community work release programs where people are taught to read, learn life skills and begin job training.
Instead of wasting billions on building and filling prisons, our state should empower local citizens to solve their problems.
I Wouldn't Change My Healthy Lifestyle If Drugs Were Legal; from FreedomsPhoenix.com (US Web), 3/31/06
MAPInc Newsfeed: Recent Meth-Related News Items
Other Methamphetamine Resources
Science & Response: 1st National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV and Hepatitis, August 19 - 20, Salt Lake City, hosted by The Harm Reduction Project