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June 15, 2006 - Buffalo News (NY)

OpEd: Giambra Is Right; New Approach Needed To Drug War

Tough Laws Not Working

By Nicolas Eyle, executive director of ReConsider, a Syracuse-based drug policy organization

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

After more than 35 years of fighting the current war on drugs, the latest excuse for drugs being cheaper, purer and more available than ever is that the police aren't filling out the paperwork correctly. ("How effective is drug war?" May 24)

Gov. Nelson Rockefeller told us that we could put a stop to this drug business if only we had tough laws. The threat of life in prison would cause smaller dealers to turn in those above them in exchange for lighter sentences, and soon all the dealers would be in prison.

We filled the prisons, but it had no effect on drug dealing.

Then we heard that if only we had more prison space, we could lock these drug dealers up, and that would be the end of the drug trade. Under Gov. Mario Cuomo, New York tripled the size of its prison system.

Today those prisons are overcrowded, mostly with nonviolent drug offenders, and there isn't a maximum security prison in the state that manages to keep drugs away from the inmates. The problem is so common that President Bill Clinton proposed a law that would mandate drug testing for inmates before they could be released.

Now we hear that the police still haven't got the hang of the paperwork. How many more years can we afford to have our cities destroyed, our children exposed to these dangerous substances, our families broken up, our court system clogged, our tax dollars wasted and our civil rights eroded to fight the failed war on drugs?

We've spent billions of dollars on drug prohibition in New York State. What's the result? Drugs went from being a small problem confined, for the most part, to a few jazz musicians and some experimenting college students, to a common commodity in our schools.

Erie County Executive Joel Giambra made a wise suggestion when he said we should look into the idea of drug legalization. After all, everything we come into contact with in America is regulated and controlled.

The chair you are sitting on passed inspection and met some standards. As did the car you drive, the food you eat, the TV you watch.

Everything is regulated -- everything that is, but potentially highly dangerous drugs, which we have, by declaring them illegal, surrendered our ability to regulate. We have turned control of these substances over to organized crime.

Legalization doesn't mean we should put barrels of crack cocaine on the sidewalk for people to help themselves from. It doesn't mean there would be heroin vending machines in our schools. It doesn't mean airline pilots should fly stoned.

On the contrary. It means regulation and control.

We owe it to ourselves to look at alternatives to this obviously failed policy we've lived with for more than 35 years. We need to understand that more of the same is just not going to work.

Plan A has failed; Buffalo needs to find a Plan B.

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