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Marijuana bill sends wrong drug message.

Byline: Michael Spasaro and Jim Feldkamp For The Register-Guard

We concur with state Sen. Floyd Prozanski's March 8 guest viewpoint concerning the methamphetamine problem that is plaguing our state and our country. This scourge continues to ravage our children and our community.

There is no debate that there is an epidemic facing us, but it is not methamphetamine - it is drug abuse. It's meth today, crack yesterday, Quaaludes before that, PCP before that, and so it goes.

When we address the issue of nicotine (a drug) abuse, do we go after Camel cigarettes and forget about Winstons?

Drug abuse has been around for thousands of years, but we have made significant progress in fighting drug use and trafficking in America. On the demand side, the U.S. has reduced casual use, chronic use and addiction, and has prevented others from even using drugs.

In 1974, 25.4 million Americans used illegal drugs; in 2001 that number dropped to 15.9 million. That means that 5 percent of the American population use illegal drugs and 95 percent of us do not.

We can curtail drug abuse, reducing it to level that prevailed before 1960. The solution lies with education and changing the American people's attitude toward the use of illegal drugs.

Can it be done? We have done it! Look at our fight against an addictive drug that kills - nicotine, usually in the form of cigarettes. It took us 40 years, but we are winning that war. This was accomplished with education and changing the attitude of the American people.

However, when Prozanski, D-Eugene, and state Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, sponsor legislation that supports medical marijuana, how can we tell our children that drugs are bad for you? When we put the word `medical' in front of a drug, does it not affect the attitude of our youth? It is not a coincidence that in our state, marijuana use among 18- to 24-year-olds is 65 percent higher than the national average.

Does that mean that everyone who uses marijuana will go on to harder drugs? Of course not. However, during our time in law enforcement we never met a meth addict who did not first use marijuana.

Look at how this attitude has continued to allow people convicted of meth offenses to continually walk the streets. As of 2004, we know that more than 200 individuals were walking the streets of Linn and Lane counties after having been convicted four to 10 times for meth manufacture and other major drug felonies. Why?

Additionally, bills that are introduced for the protection of our citizenry fail to address the fact that crime goes up when the economy goes down. The correlation between the demise of our economy and the increase in drugs and drug-related offenses is no coincidence.

We need tools to fight drug abuse: 1) a strong economy; 2) education and changed attitudes toward the use of illegal drugs; 3) strong community involvement; 4) accountability by everyone, ranging from law enforcement, prosecutors and judges to our legislators and our governor, and 6) treatment.

We need to understand that the problem and the real issue is drug abuse, and the causes that perpetuate this illegal activity. Only by addressing the root cause of drug abuse can we begin to get a handle on this new epidemic.

Michael Spasaro of Lebanon was an undercover agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration and ran last year as the Republican candidate in state House District 11. Jim Feldkamp of Eugene was an FBI special agent, and ran for Congress last year as the GOP candidate in the 4th District.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Apr 4, 2005
Words:602
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