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February 27, 2005 - The Lansing State Journal (MI)

Our War On Drugs Only Aids Criminals

By Howard J. Wooldridge, media director for the advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, based in Dallas, and served as a police officer in Potterville and DeWitt and Bath townships

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

How is the "War on Drugs" working for us in America?

Is it reducing crime? Is it reducing rates of death and disease? Is it effective in keeping drugs and drug dealers away from our children?

These are important questions for a policy that costs us taxpayers some $70 billion this year.

As a police officer, I fought on the side of the "good guys" for 15 years in this war. I gained a lot of actual experience in the trenches.

After much experience, consternation and out-and-out frustration in not achieving a single, stated goal in the long term, I came to the conclusion that we must be doing something wrong.

It seemed no matter how many dealers we took off the streets, new ones immediately popped up to take their places.

The prices for drugs kept falling, indicating an increasing supply.

The purity kept increasing, too. Heroin increased from 3.6 percent to 38.2 percent purity between 1980 and 1999.

The prison population kept increasing until more than 70 percent of all inmates are there on some drug-related charge.

Between 1985 and 1996, worldwide production of heroin increased by three times, while coca production doubled.

Meanwhile, terrorists and drug barons were amassing fortunes from drug sales. We have turned Third World thugs into billionaires that can buy governments and launch terrorism around the world.

Our prisons are filled with non-violent offenders while murderers, rapists and child molesters get early release due to crowding.

The only thing we have to show for this terrible policy is that today after 35 years and $500 billion, illegal drugs are cheaper, stronger and very easy for our kids to buy.

The unintended consequences of this terrible war are needlessly destroying the lives of generations of America's youth. How many young people do you know who have used an illegal drug, then put the drugs behind them and gone on to lead productive lives? U.S. presidents and many members of our legislative bodies have done exactly that.

With imprisonment, those possibilities are eliminated. You can get over an addiction, but you will never get over a conviction.

We should be putting much more effort into education and treatment. The education has to be based in fact, not emotional scare tactics. The treatment needs to voluntary; forced treatment is not much different than some government's attempts at brainwashing.

I suggest that if substances were regulated and taxed, adequate monies could be raised for quality programs, the huge profit incentive (up to 17,000 percent) would disappear, and the glamour of presently illicit drugs would be reduced.

Drug prohibition represents the very definition of a failed public policy. Will Rogers said, "If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging." Prohibitionists are well-intentioned but are blinded by ideology.

But I don't want to be too harsh ... I once rode a horse and tilted at windmills, too.

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