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August 30, 2005 - Arizona Range News (AZ)

Editorial: A Closer Look - Failed Drug Policies Need To Be Revised

By Terry Maxwell

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Can we as concerned law-abiding citizens do something to change failed drug policies that are creating heartache, trauma and confusion throughout America, diverting police from pursuing violent criminal parasites, clogging our court system, breaking up families, and labeling America as the incarceration capital of the world?

There is no easy answer to the traumatic impact of illegal drug abuse. Most of us realize the federal government's "War on Drugs" has been a failed experiment. Yet, as taxpayers we tacitly approve the chicanery that is going on in Washington and at the state level.

In small rural and suburban communities, law enforcement is generally able to find out what is going on through the use of informants and investigations. But illegal-drug users, even after being arrested, still have a tendency to come back to Willcox, said Willcox Police Chief Jake Weaver. And, abusers understand that the Cochise County Sheriff's Department has a limited number of deputies to cover a large and spread out area and thereby take advantage of the situation that exists. The state police have their hands full just patrolling the highways.

The end result of prohibition is to drive illegal drugs underground. Therefore, it becomes much more difficult to monitor. Similar prohibition tactics in the roaring '20s only increased alcohol prices and very little of anything was accomplished for the public good. Runaway illicit drug prices have opened up lucrative opportunities for drug pushers. They have capitalized on the $6-billion-a-year nationwide illegal drug market and will continue to do so in the future.

At the state and federal level, politicians should get off the lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key mentality that only serves as a bonanza for construction companies and criminal justice personnel at a horrific cost to financially burdened taxpayers.

There is no question that violent criminals and criminal sexual psychopaths should be incarcerated for the protection of society. However, most drug addicts don't totally fit that description and a reasonable percentage of offenders can be saved from a life behind bars.

Politicians are fearful of being branded as soft on crime if they take the position that there may be a more pragmatic and realistic way to combat illegal drugs. Therefore, a criminal-justice system that routinely sentences nonviolent addicts to prison contributes to increased crime and violent behavior in the community at large.

A segment of our population will always use illegal drugs. The government's role should be to reduce the physical and psychological harm to the user and society through treatment and other meaningful approaches. If a drug abuser sells drugs and is addicted, he or she should be subject to a prison sentence. In the majority of cases when addicts with a history of selling drugs are released from prison, they all too often go back on the street and sell drugs and violate the terms of their parole.

The criminal justice system avoids the fact that the two most abused and lethal drugs in America, alcohol and nicotine are legal due to the manufacturer's flow of money to lobbyists and political campaigns. Even the most casual observer can see that drug-abuse policies are incongruent and must be thoroughly reviewed for possible revision.

Evidently, our politicians at the state and federal level are aware that to put alcohol and nicotine in the same illegal category as marijuana would only create animosity and dim the politician's chances of being returned to political office.

Why? Because millions of Americans are addicted to one or both legal drugs at a horrendous cost in human life, pain and suffering and billions of dollars that could be used for desperately needed health care and public and private education.

To avoid any confusion about my position on the legalization of physically-addictive hard drugs such as heroin, morphine, meth, and cocaine, among others, I am convinced that it would be a mistake that would compound the problem and promote hard-drug use. However, hard-drug users that have no previous felony arrest record should not automatically be sentenced to a state or federal prison and come in contact with hardened criminals, learn lessons of the trade from the best teachers, and be subjected to rape and sadism and be released into a free society more vindictive than when they were sentenced to prison.

Obviously, there are no easy answers to this controversial argument over how to handle drug abuse. Options currently available are long prison sentences, probation with mandatory drug-abuse counseling and therapy, reduced penalties for soft drug convictions, public and private school education, and legalization.

Efforts are being made by government and local service agencies to reduce the human carnage that is a product of both illegal drugs and legal drugs like alcohol and nicotine. They are to be commended for their leadership and devoted efforts to treat addiction at the community level rather than shipping offenders of to a prison system that is considered one of the worst in the world.

Often, inmates are released from prison as a greater threat to society than when they were sentenced. Violence is a part of prison life, which makes an inmate fight for his or her self-respect and dignity, whatever is left. If he or she is a mild-mannered addict, prison thugs quickly pick them out as an easy touch to sexually assault and abuse. When released from prison, they have to carry a heavy load of psychological baggage that makes it even more difficult to stay off drugs in a free society.

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