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May 26, 2005 - The Charlotte Observer (NC)

Call Off The War On Drugs

Why Pick Only Some Items Adults Use And Declare Them Illegal?

By Bill Reeside Jr.

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

WARNING: The following column contains adult content. Please do not read on if you live in Hillary Clinton's Village or if you had to call Parks Helms and ask him which belt to wear with those shoes.

Marijuana, tobacco, cocaine, beer, ecstasy, chocolate, Viagra, aspirin, codeine, French fries, Prozac. These are all things that people voluntarily put into their bodies to make themselves feel better. Some of these things can be bought at a convenience store. Some require a doctor's prescription and a visit to a pharmacist. Some must be bought under cover of darkness, with cash only, and with no certainty of the purity of the product. Some can be procured by children, others after you reach age 18, still others not until 21 and a few only at the risk of government sanction. Why have we stitched together this crazy quilt of dealing with the products that comfort us?

We can probably agree that too much of a good thing can be harmful to us. Intellectually, we can probably agree that a lot of things we voluntarily put in our bodies aren't even a little bit good for us. My father smoked cigarettes for over 50 years, and I watched him die much too young. When asked why he smoked, he told me he loved his cigarettes -- they relaxed him, they went well with a glass of gin, and he wasn't hurting anybody but himself.

So what do we do with adults who comfort themselves with marijuana, cocaine and heroin? Something the government has done for decades is prosecute a "war" on drugs and the adults who use them. Government picked some items that lots of adults use and declared those items and their use illegal. Government puts adults in jail, confiscates their property, spies on them, prohibits the manufacture, possession and use of certain products, and tries to tax or sue certain products out of existence.

How's it working? As we say in these parts, "Not too good!" The U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, was in Colombia, South America, recently. She said that after spending $3 billion of U.S. money on eradicating cocaine production in Colombia, we haven't seen any success, but we can't quit now.

State and federal courts and the jails that go with them are overwhelmed with drug cases. Mecklenburg County voters will soon be asked to authorize millions of dollars in bonds to build more jail space. Charlotte City Council is being asked for dozens of additional police officers. All this money spent so we can arrest and imprison common folk who buy dime bags to share with their friends.

In New York State, in order to win votes in the rural areas, gubernatorial candidates promise to build prisons to help the depressed local economies. Then, when they become governor, they make sure to enforce the draconian Rockefeller drug laws in order to fill up those new prisons.

It doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to waste tremendous resources enforcing codes of conduct on adults who want to voluntarily put a drug in their own bodies and who aren't adversely affecting anyone else's health or property.

Here's what we can do on a local and state level:

Vote a resounding "No" on the bond issue that includes more money for jails. In 2004, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department made almost 3,000 arrests for drug offenses and issued more than 600 citations for drug paraphernalia. We don't need to fill the jails with people harming only themselves.

Charlotte City Council can free the police from enforcing silly "don't park on your own lawn" laws and "don't make or possess a crack pipe" ordinances and have them focus on rape, murder and property crime. Don't tell us we need more police officers while you are wasting the efforts of the current force.

There will be at least one Libertarian Party candidate, Justin Cardone, in the City Council race. Put him in office so the city will have some leadership that focuses the police department on real crimes. City Council member Patrick Cannon's decision to sit out the race gives Charlotte voters a chance for some real change.

Continue to enforce DWI laws. Even the most rabid libertarian understands that driving a vehicle while impaired presents a serious danger to others, not just self.

Tell your state legislators to forget the lottery and increased cigarette taxes. Tell them to think of the untold sales and "sin" taxes they are missing by keeping marijuana and cocaine a cash-only business. While enforcing strict prohibition of access by minors, the legislators should pick a reasonable age at which adults can use drugs legally.

Finally, until we can get the drug laws repealed, encourage your state legislators and local leaders to fund the drug courts, which focus on treatment rather than punishment. The war on drugs is lost as long as we focus on supply -- when we get demand under control, the war will be won.

Oh, and by the way -- that belt you picked out by yourself? It looks fabulous with those shoes!

Bill Reeside of Davidson works for a global company that designs, constructs and maintains nuclear power plants.

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