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June 4, 2005 - The Daily Republic (CA)

Column: Legalize Drugs To Reduce Crime

By Randy Carlson, longtime Solano County resident and a teacher at Armijo High School

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Given the general perception that a tsunami of violent crime is sweeping Solano County, the Fairfield City Council did the right thing by voting to hire 10 additional police officers, six of whom would be part of crime suppression unit, with others directed toward domestic violence.

Putting badges on the street will not solve our crime problem, but it made me feel better about walking the dog at night. That changed a few days later few days later when I opened my morning newspapers.

On its front page, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story of an 84-year-old widow in the Mission District who was held prisoner in her own apartment while gang members dealt drugs and even ate her senior meals.

The Daily Republic ran a front-page story about a Suisun City woman whose identify was stolen by a couple of "lovebirds" down the street to finance their methamphetamine addictions.

One might almost conclude that there's a nexus between drug money and crime.

To confirm my suspicions, I went to the experts, my third-period class, to ask what percentage of local crime results from the drug trade. After a heated discussion in which the expression "He had it coming!" was used several times, they issued their verdict - 80 percent, about double that reported by reliable sources.

If America wants to reduce its violent crime rate, nothing could have greater impact than the replacement of our absurdly expensive, ineffective and unnecessary War on Drugs with a simple program of regulation and taxation, similar to that applied to alcohol.

The illegal drugs themselves - heroine, cocaine, meth, and others - are similar to alcohol in that they are very dangerous if used irresponsibly, but none poses nearly the health risk of tobacco, which is legal even though it kills about 390,000 Americans each year.

A Libertarian might argue that it's an undue intrusion on his personal rights for the government to dictate which drugs he may inject or ingest into his own body.

The fact is, our national drug policy sprang from fear, and it remains at odds with science and pragmatic social policy. Our nation's very first drug ordinance was passed in San Francisco in 1875 when city fathers banned opium dens because they feared that white women would be "lured to ruin" by Chinese men.

The first federal statute governing hard drugs, the Harrison Act of 1914, merely issued regulations for licensing and taxing the manufacture and distribution of drugs. Only later, under the influence of the same moralizers that brought you Prohibition, were drugs banned entirely.

Today, America fights evil on several fronts, and the War on Drugs is faring even worse than the other battles. Federal and state governments will spend almost $50 billion to fight drugs.

The effect has been counterproductive - to raise the price of drugs and the profitability of the drug trade, incentivizing criminality. This results in a spiraling prison population where non-violent offenders go to be schooled in more sophisticated crime.

If the federal government were to legalize drugs, it could make them less deadly by standardizing purity and by adding warning labels. But the greatest positive effect would come from reducing both the market value of drugs and social cost of drug-related crime. Junkies would not have to steal your car to get a fix, and dealers would be unemployed.

No country has decriminalized drug use, but the Netherlands has moved in that direction. After experiencing violent heroine wars in the 1970s, the Dutch evolved toward an emphasis on treatment rather than upon repression. Yet Dutch rates of drug use are lower than U.S. rates in every category.

I'll be visiting the Netherlands this summer to evaluate the situation, but I will do so only under the strict clinical supervision of my wife.

Randy Carlson is a longtime Solano County resident and a teacher at Armijo High School.

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