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November 30, 2006 - Rutland Herald (VT)

State's Attorney Critical Of Drug Laws

By Susan Smallheer, Herald Staff

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WHITE RIVER JUNCTION -- Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand is tired of wasting money and wasted lives.

Sand believes it's time for Vermont to start rethinking how it handles illegal drugs.

Sand, who has been a prosecutor for 15 years, the last nine as the head of law enforcement in Windsor County, says he favors the decriminalization of all drugs and a health-approach to people who use drugs.

"It's hard for me to see the vast resources expended on drug cases," Sand said, adding that he wished more resources would go into prosecuting the physical and sexual abuse of children.

"Don't get me wrong," Sand said in an interview in his office overlooking downtown White River Junction. "Drugs are bad for you, they impair your judgment, they affect your memory, they reduce your inhibitions in a dangerous way. They're not good for you."

But Sand said he doesn't think the role of government is to get people to stop drinking alcohol or doing drugs.

It becomes an issue for government, he says, when people endanger other people.

Sand believes deeply that the current system is not working and it needs a radical rethinking.

"I actually reject the premise that it's radical. I'm not condoning people breaking the law. My duty is to enforce the law but it's not my role to just passively accept a situation that exacerbates public danger."

Sand admitted he was "painting with a broad brush," and said that by no means does he have all the answers to a complicated issue.

Sand points to Prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s as the perfect example of why restricting drug use won't work.

"Prohibition doesn't work; we should have learned that with alcohol," he said.

The county prosecutor said that after domestic violence cases, the most serious crimes he sees occur during drug transactions, or people committing crimes in order to get the money to pay for their addiction.

"Drug transactions cause the most serious crimes," he said, noting that the disputes deal with money owed, drugs stolen and turf wars between dealers.

"That's the violence of drugs," he said, not drug-induced crime. "We don't see crazed crack heads or someone on crystal (methamphetamines)," he said, referring to drug addictions more common in the cities.

Sand says when he's talked to the county's major police departments about his thinking about drugs, he first gets accused of being soft on drugs.

But then Sand asks them to think "about the worst drug house in their community, the worst drug dealer, the worst addict." And then he asks them to envision the drug house painted and repaired, and giving people legal drugs.

"No one will speak openly about it," he admitted.

That's when the police say he's got a point, he said. "It means less violence. It means less addicts."

Sand is adamant that the drugs be regulated and not be available to children, but he says one way of handling the sale of drugs is to treat it much like alcohol.

Sand's father Leonard Sand is a federal judge in New York City, but he declined to say what those father-son conversations on this issue have been about.

Sand said he first talked about his ideas about taking a public health approach to drug use to the Windsor Rotary Club. He's spoken to area police departments and last month talked to the annual meeting for volunteers with Windsor County Court Diversion.

He said last month one of the court diversion volunteers came up to him and said that while she didn't agree with him, she was willing to start having a serious discussion about it and she admitted she might change her mind.

Sand is no stranger to being an advocate for change. He said an op-ed piece he wrote in the Rutland Herald in January 2005 spawned legislation that created Vermont's Sentencing Commission. Sand is one of the commissioners on the study group, which is looking into how justice is weighed in Vermont.

He worked closely with Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, and Rep. William Lippert, D-Hinesburg, who were the chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary committees to come up with the commission.

But Sand said so far he's stayed away from legislators in his discussion.

"I don't know that I'm right, but we need to talk about it," Sand said.

"We need to have an intelligent discussion."

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