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May 1, 2006 - St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Courageous Politician Speaks Truth On Drug War

By Bill McClellan

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Let's raise a toast this morning to a Republican from New York, Erie County Executive Joel Giambra. After a spate of drug-related killings in Buffalo, including the Good Friday murder of a nun who was killed by an addict who wanted her cell phone so he could trade it for crack, Giambra had the courage to state the obvious. The war on drugs isn't working. We ought to talk about legalization, he said.

He was immediately ridiculed by other politicians. The folks from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)rallied to his side. Peter Christ, a retired police captain from the nearby town of Tonawanda, appeared with Giambra at a press conference and said that legalization made sense.

"Al Capone wasn't created by alcohol. Al Capone was created by the prohibition of alcohol," Christ said. "We believe that a regulated and controlled marketplace, regulated by government, is totally preferable to an uncontrolled marketplace run by gangsters on the street."

Who would want to debate that? Apparently, none of Giambra's critics. "I'm not going to dignify the efficacy of his remarks by putting it to a debate," Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark told a local reporter.

I was alerted to this story by Howard Wooldridge. He's a retired police officer from Michigan who was in town last month, spreading the gospel according to LEAP. And that gospel is this: Drugs are bad, but what we are doing is not working. Prohibition drives up the price of drugs. As long as there is demand, there will be supply. Prohibition means that criminals will be in control of that supply.

I have been singing from the same hymnal for years.

Also chiming in this week was Mary Anastasia O'Grady, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board and the writer of a weekly column on Latin America. She wrote that Mexico and other Latin American countries are under siege by criminal drug trafficking operations that exist because of our policy of prohibition. "Prohibition and the war on drugs are fueling a criminal underworld that handily crushes nascent democratic institutions in countries that we keep expecting to develop.

Is it reasonable to blame Mexico for what enormously well-funded organized crime operations are doing to its political, judicial and law enforcement bodies when we know that Al Capone's power during alcohol prohibition accomplished much the same in the U.S.?"

That reminds me of a question I often pose: Who would you rather have as a powerful man in the community, August Busch or Al Capone?

If the war on drugs were able to stop drug use, we wouldn't be having this discussion. But it has not stopped drug use. Drugs are available everywhere. I recently wrote a column about Donnie Blankenship. He was convicted of five counts of murder, but was recently up for parole. A friend from law enforcement sent me a note. Blankenship has tested positive four times for marijuana in the past 18 months.

You can get drugs in prisons. You can get drugs in schools. You can buy them on the street. And it's not just the poor who turn to them. This past week, Rush Limbaugh reached a deal with the prosecutor. If he continues therapy and remains drug-free for 18 months, a felony drug charge will be dropped.

Therapy and rehabilitation. That's where we should be putting our money. It's cheaper to help addicts than to investigate, arrest, convict and incarcerate them. And if they don't want to be helped, well, fine. Let them be addicts. Nobody is claiming that legalization of drugs will create a perfect world, just a better one.

As O'Grady concluded in her essay, "The question is not whether dangerous drugs are innocuous. Let's agree they are not. The question is which policy is best to manage the problem."

It's good to see a politician join in the discussion. Here's to Joel Giambra.

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