Courage and confidence can lead

Drug Control: National Policies

By Dr. A. C. Germann, Professor Emeritus, Department of Criminal Justice, California State University, Long Beach

While teaching a course on drug abuse and the law to pre-service students and working practitioners, it was obvious to me, as might be expected, that the level of sophistication about drug use and abuse varied from the naïvely ignorant to the superbly informed. Many well intentioned government publications accurately describe harmful addictive drug abuse, and support blanket repression and zero tolerance of many widely used substances. This results in the incarceration of many violent and nonviolent, addicted and non-addicted, dangerous and cooperative offenders.

Today, a reassessment of current drug policy is widely debated, and the criminal justice system subjected to critical policy analysis in terms of its basic effectiveness and fairness. We need adult, serious, balanced, and dignified coverage of information that is not distorted, paranoid, self-serving, politicized, or seriously misleading.

If the ears of all the people in the nation who had ingested illicit substances in the past six months were to turn bright green for one whole week, the nation would be amazed, confused, flabbergasted, and quickly taught something very important as they identified friends, relatives, neighbors, doctors, lawyers, accountants, priests, nuns, ministers, rabbis, soldiers, police, firemen, military personnel, businessmen, teachers, students, politicians, respected policy makers, administrators, supervisors, and workers from a variety of private and governmental institutions everywhere.

The nation could, reasonably, come to realize that there is such a thing as useful, pleasurable and responsible drug use, as well as useless, damaging and irresponsible drug abuse.

It is a national embarrassment that many of our approaches to drug use and drug abuses remain so puerile, ignorant, and vindictive. We need truthful information about responsible drug use and irresponsible drug abuse, of both licit and illicit drugs. We need alternatives to the repressive and demonizing uses of police, prosecution, and prison, and to consider reasoned and compassionate uses of education, treatment, and rehabilitation. Such alternatives would clearly demonstrate that policies of zero tolerance are counterproductive, worsen a horrible situation, waste public monies, corrupt agencies, and serve only the interests of the drug conglomerates, the prison/criminal justice industrial complex, and unfair agency forfeiture acquisitions.

The repetitive refrain "We need to hire more police, pass tougher laws, get tougher judges, pass longer sentences, and build more jails and prisons" is a popular and addictive ditty, but unrealistic and self-defeating, and a politically mandated "loyalty oath." We seem unable to learn from the painful history of alcohol prohibition.

The informed person is in a position to bring light where there is darkness, hope where there is frustration, and compassion where there is coldhearted indifference. Courage and confidence can lead the nation to rational recovery from a national disgrace, and lead the world to more humane control policies, while at the same time changing an outmoded "national war on drugs" to an "international education concerning drug use and abuse." Our forefathers left a tyrannical Europe for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Military pragmatism can "destroy a village in order to save it" and likewise, a drug war can destroy people in order to save them, and cost far more than educational programs.

Education, as a process for changing minds, beliefs, and actions, is more effective, less wasteful of resources, and more edifying than the horrors of war, wherever and however utilized. Education honors the potential of every human being, and is much more fitting for the new millennium and the loving, sharing, peaceful planet that we all yearn to see for those, and ourselves yet to be.