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June 4, 2005 - The Norwich Bulletin (CT)

'War On Drugs' Not Meant To Be Won

By Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

With remarks to a civic group in Enfield recently, Superior Court Judge Howard Scheinblum engaged in what is seldom forgiven in Connecticut's public life: candor.

The judge asserted what can neither be denied nor acknowledged -- that public policy on drugs doesn't work.

Speaking from his 15 years of experience on the bench, Scheinblum estimated 90 percent of criminal cases in Connecticut are connected in some way to the pursuit of illegal drugs, and he asserted that society would be far better off to let users of such drugs obtain them by prescription and to be charged for them according to their ability to pay.

That is, the judge said, drugs are not the problem, not the cause of thievery, robbery, and violence; drug prohibition is.

If now-illegal drugs were available to addicts by prescription, many addicts would waste their lives away, but at least they wouldn't be robbing and killing others for money for drugs, and drug dealers would not be killing others over drug sales territory.

Most violent crime would disappear.

Sensible as this might seem -- after all, despite drug criminalization, illegal drugs are more prevalent than ever; the legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, claim so many more lives than illegal drugs; and who really cares how people waste their lives as long as they don't hurt others? -- the judge said any departure from futile drug policy would be blocked by "vested interests."

For if drug prohibition crime ended, the judge said, Connecticut wouldn't need as many police, courts, prisons, drug programs and so forth.

Judge Scheinblum's analysis only seems cynical, but it has been borne out by the political action of Connecticut's prison guards union against the transfer of inmates to prisons out of state where costs of imprisonment are lower.

The families of prisoners have protested as well, but the union didn't care about prisoner welfare; it cared about losing business.

The judge's analysis also has been borne out by state government's refusal to audit drug-criminalization policy. The policy's failure is obvious, but politicians are paralyzed by fear of the policy's financial beneficiaries and the fear of asking the public to challenge old but faulty assumptions.

As with many other policies in Connecticut that are never evaluated for results, the "war on drugs" is not meant to be won; it is meant to be waged.

Even its racially disproportionate casualties are not enough to prompt politicians to engage in candor like Judge Scheinblum's. Indeed, Connecticut's politicians are happy to put half the state's young men of color in prison if the other half can be hired to guard them.

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