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January 25, 2007 - Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)

OpEd: It's Time To Declare Defeat In The War On Drugs

By Scott MacKay (Note: A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., Scott MacKay served his country as a conscientious objector in the 1960s. He has a bachelor's degree from Brown University and retired from a career as a substance abuse counselor, the last 10 years with the N.C. Criminal Justice System. He lives in Asheville.)

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Public opinion, as expressed in the AC-T letters of Jan. 17, lauds the effort of Councilman Carl Mumpower to lead the fight against drug crime in our public housing. I commend him for his commitment to good order among the poor we aid.

The Herculean task of cleansing certain neighborhoods of illicit drugs, as honorable as it is, is as shortsighted as the failed "war on drugs." For a better discussion of the issue, I refer the reader to an op-ed article by Orlando Patterson in the Jan. 13 New York Times.

The special efforts to squelch this crime began in 1971, apparently as part of Richard Nixon's personal vendetta against pot-crazed communists, hippies and peaceniks, all unsavory characters.( I know this to be true from experience.

I was one of those about whom parents warned their daughters.) The results of this forgotten war have been anything but what was intended, and makes one wonder why it is not terminated.

The Drug Enforcement Agency has created an artificial shortage of product, without affecting demand. Risk is not inherent to the industry, and has been introduced by the government in a way that only the most ruthless entrepreneurs will enter the market. Narco-managers reduce risk further and increase efficiency by usurping the government's monopoly of violence.

Eradication as a means of restricting supply means the waging of chemical warfare on peasants of Latin America. We spray the coca crop, and any crop and person in the way, with herbicides.

Markets for cocaine were developed by dramatizing the exploits of drug agents and smugglers, making the enterprise appear exciting and romantic, with such entertainments as "Miami Vice." When demand and supply reached equilibrium and growth stalled, new forms were introduced. Crack sells for less per dose, but economies of scale mean greater total revenue. I don't believe manufacturers knew that the delivery mechanism, smoking, was more efficient than snorting.

This was a bonus, making the longevity of the high shorter, the drug more addictive, and more of it sold. It has all the makings of perfect capitalism: Make it for a dime, sell it for a dollar, and it's habit-forming.

Where local supply is unreliable, and there's an upward pressure on price, the market has become differentiated. For each of the major illicit drugs, there is at least one designer drug substitute. Some of these are more dangerous in the production process, in their effects on the body, and some are more addictive. There is also a thriving black market in stolen pharmaceuticals.

The law draws a border between legitimate society( white, middle class, middle-aged men) and the society and culture of drugs. Beyond that border there are no controls.

A street dealer is not going to complain to the cops that he has been ripped off. Nor is a cop going to run to his aid as he might to a storeowner. Once one is willing to enter this underworld, one is also willing to abandon normal inhibitions. Morality becomes a remote memory. I agree with the conservative analysis of William F. Buckley on the subject of de-criminalization of cocaine: The result would be a supply far exceeding demand, and prices would fall far below profitability. Each of these drugs originates in vegetable form, and have uses with little refinement. Coca leaf is a good stimulant, better than caffeine.

There is considerable need for opiate anesthetics in the Third World.

Marijuana, now the most profitable crop in the country, has good enough medical uses that Canada approved a drug for treatment of multiple sclerosis distilled from cannabis sativa. Decriminalization and controlled production can enhance the incomes of peasant farmers in Latin America and Afghanistan.

There are distinct advantages to declaring defeat in the war on drugs. The nation would cease the billions of dollars of expenses incurred by the DEA. The cost of prisons would be cut about in half, because we would stop prosecuting and incarcerating young men for drug crimes and drug-related crimes committed against the vulnerable poor. We will have adequate funds for prevention, education and treatment.

Carl Mumpower could go home to bed.

There are severe impediments to decriminalization of these drugs. Each drug provides instantly and artificially something that is lacking in the life of the user. Inasmuch as they mimic natural processes, then there is a drug-free means to achieve this.

Drugs offer the user a false sense of empowerment, of well-being, of invulnerability. The natural option, then, is to organize politically. Self-empowerment, economic cooperation and community protection will produce authentic and clean neighborhoods. Go ask the Black Panthers, those still alive, what they know about this.

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