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Legalization? No way!

THE DEBATE OVER THE LEGALIZATION of illicit drugs continues. Proponents are a small group-mostly academics and intellectuals-who are sincere and have good intentions but appear to be divorced from the realities of drug abuse. The majority of Americans, including law enforcement officials, religious leaders, parents, and drug counselors in the inner cities, disagree-many violently-with the concept of legalization.

A recent Gallup Poll indicated that most Americans believe drugs are the greatest current threat to our country. This article outlines some of the current misconceptions and myths about legalization and shows that if attempted, legalization would fail with irreversible and disastrous consequences for the United States.

We hear, ad nauseam, that a citizen's personal life is of no concern to the government and the government has no right to prevent individuals from pursuing pleasure - even selfdestructive pleasure - so long as no one else is harmed. Right on! But how can that rationale be used with respect to people whose drug abuse results in automobile accidents that cause death and serious injury to innocent victims? Or to the railroad engineer from Baltimore whose use of marijuana resulted in his conviction for the death of 16 passengers in January 1987?

In the 18 months following that accident 37 railroad accidents in the United States took place as a result of illegal drug use. One of the major causes of AIDS is dirty needles shared among users for injecting illegal drugs. And is no one responsible for the thousands of crack babies" found in hospitals throughout the country? How about the families of drug abusers who pay heavily in terms of emotions as well as money?

Let's face it-many persons who abuse drugs do harm others, and the cost in terms of human misery and private and public funds is enormous. The truth is, every user contributes to the drug problem and must accept responsibility for his or her actions. An individual's right to control his or her body is not an absolute right, a fact that is evidenced by laws requiring the wearing of seat belts and motorcycle helmets.

Our national drug policy has not been a huge success. Large expenditures have not succeeded in stopping the flow of drugs into this country. In spite of the recent interdiction of much larger amounts of drugs than in the past, no resulting shortage has occurred on the streets of America. It is obvious that supply interdiction by itself will not solve our drug problem.

Much more emphasis must be placed on demand reduction. We must convince users and potential users that taking drugs is not in their best interests, and we must provide addicts with treatment. In addition, we must increase the funds used for education and treatment if we are to have any hope of success in reducing this country's dependence on illegal drugs. At the same time, we cannot give up our efforts at supply reduction. Supply reduction is an interim measure, not capable of complete success by itself, that permits holding the line while concentrating on the major hope for the future, demand reduction.

While the national drug program leaves much to be desired, it is a mistake to think that no progress has been made. A nationwide survey conducted by the University of Michigan shows that fewer high school students are smoking marijuana, although the vast majority-85 percent-found the substance readily available. The same survey indicated that all drug use among high school seniors is down 13.6 percent since 1982.

A 1985 survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) showed nearly 2 million fewer citizens smoked marijuana than in 1982. Cocaine is slowly losing its appeal among the middle class. The fear of failure and the loss of jobs, career, and family have caused many in the middle class to reevaluate their thinking on drugs. At the same time, the use of cocaine and its derivative, crack, has increased in urban ghettos and areas where people perceive a sense of despair.

Much has been made of the death and injury rates resulting from alcohol use and smoking, and they undoubtedly are much greater than those caused by illegal drugs. On the other hand, the last few years have seen a sizable reduction in the number of people who smoke and drink hard liquor, a tribute to the power of education. Many people have accepted the idea that these things are not good for them.

People who remember Prohibition may also remember that when we had laws against alcohol, there was less alcohol consumption, less alcohol-related disease, and a lot less public drunkenness. Chances are good that the same disenchantment will take place with illegal drugs over the years if they are not legalized. The fact that we are burdened with socially acceptable substances such as alcohol and tobacco does not make it logical to add other substances. Prohibition of alcohol and tobacco in today's environment is unrealistic, but that doesn't mean we have to give legal sanction to additional public health and social problems. PROPONENTS OF LEGALIZATION POINT to the billions of dollars that legalization would keep from drug dealers and therefore become available for other projects. That is not necessarily so. Unless the government allows users of all ages to purchase unlimited quantities of drugs anonymously, a black market will always exist. If legalization requires registration of users-a must if legalization is really intended to control the amounts and types of drugs an individual would be allowed to purchase-the stigma would ensure that many users would resort to the black market. How many doctors, lawyers, judges, railroad engineers, truck or bus drivers, airline pilots, police officers, engineers, or construction equipment operators would dare risk their jobs by openly registering as drug users?

Furthermore, if the government sells drugs, dealers will sell them cheaper. Dealers are better organized and more flexible and will be able to compete with a government-run bureaucracy. Their operating costs are low, and they can sell at whatever price the market will bear.

Another expected result of legalization is the reduction of violence, which may also be wishful thinking. Competition between rival dealers will ensure continuing violence. More important, users will continue to require money to purchase drugs, albeit at lower rates, and they are still going to need money for rent, food, and other necessities. If their habit prevents them from working, they will continue to resort to violence to get that money.

A number of proponents of legalization would begin with marijuana only, but there is no logical reason for legalizing one drug without legalizing them all. Marijuana is supposed to be the mildest of illegal drugs, but even it can have serious effects on the human body. Students who smoke marijuana regularly often lose interest in their studies and are not motivated to do their schoolwork. Marijuana can interfere with learning by impairing thinking, reading comprehension, and verbal and mathematical skills. It can impair or reduce short-term memory, alter sense of time, and reduce the ability to perform tasks that require concentration, swift reactions, and coordination, such as piloting an airplane, driving a car, or operating machinery.

Marijuana affects a wide range of skills needed for safe driving. Thinking and reflexes are slowed, making it hard for drivers to respond to sudden, unexpected events. A driver's ability to track (stay in lane) through curves, to brake quickly, and to maintain speed and the proper distance between cars is affected. Research shows that these skills are impaired for at least four to six hours after smoking a single marijuana cigarette, long after the high is gone.

How can advocates of marijuana call this a desirable "recreational" drug? If marijuana, the mildest of the illegal drugs, can make zombies of regular users, consider the impact of the more drastic and dangerous symptoms developed by those who use heroin, cocaine, and crack. What is most difficult to comprehend is the absolute immorality and hypocrisy of the US government's being involved in the manufacture and sale of drugs that are currently illegal, while at the same time publicizing the dangers of using those same drugs. How can we even consider encouraging Americans to use substances that are physically and psychologically addictive, cause physical and mental health problems, and cause accidents that result in deaths and injuries? How can we consciously contribute to a dependency that will eventually sap the national will to achieve even moderate social and economic goals?

We would be sending society a mixed message, and one may wonder how young, impressionable people would handle it. Many people who now avoid drugs because they are against the law would try them if they became legal. Drug use, overall, would inevitably increase. Robert DuPont, former head of NIDA, says that the potential market for drugs can be compared to the number of Americans who now use alcohol-140 million-and that with legalization, up to 50 million Americans would eventually use cocaine. If DuPont is right and if the ratio of addicts to nonaddicted users remains the same-approximately one in five-it is plausible to expect an addicted population of 10 million! DR. EDWARD SENAY OF THE UNIVERsity of Chicago states that legalization is, at best, a high-stakes gamble "that could have a lot of disastrous consequences." To those who see the realities of addiction at close range, the idea of legalizing cocaine or other hard drugs is a nightmare. To those who advocate legalizing marijuana only as a start, there is no way to prevent the use of marijuana as a stepping stone to hard drugs.

John Lawn, former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, says that drugs are not bad because they are illegal, they are illegal because they are bad. He also states that anyone who talks in terms of legalizing drugs is willing to write the death warrants for people in the lower socioeconomic classes.

Proponents of legalization, including William F. Buckley, Jr., are apparently willing to accept more drug addiction as the price for reducing crime. opponents would accept a higher level of crime as the price for holding down addiction. Neither side can be sure to what extent legalization would reduce crime or increase addiction unless it is tried. The idea is extremely risky, because if legalization fails, as it is almost certain to do, going back to the status quo would be extremely difficult and costly. reduce crime and its allied costs, the open availability of cocaine and other addictive substances can only compound the mammoth social problems of the inner cities. Many Americans would be able to avoid addiction; millions of others would not. Legalization is an inequitable trade-off for which society's victims would pay dearly. Those who do not use drugs would gain the benefits of reduced crime (if it were in fact reduced) while those who are addicted or become addicted in a future of legalized drugs would be condemned to a brutal struggle with their dependency. Such reasoning is immoral, elitist, and racist, and to many in the ghetto it is one more example of a social order that provides abundant opportunities for self-destruction but very few for hope.

William J. Bennett, former director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, discussed the relationship between national drug policy and intellectuals in a speech at Harvard University in December 1989. Bennett pointed out that in the fields of medical and scientific research much valuable drug-related work is being done, but in the great public policy debate over drugs, the academic and intellectual communities have had little to contribute that is genuinely useful or mentally distinguished.

Intellectuals, except in their specialized fields, are frequently long on theory and short on practical solutions. Bennett contended that intellectuals have made up their minds that the drug problem is absurdly simple and easy to solve and that the drug problem in America is a lost cause. Bennett stated that each of these contradictory propositions is false and is disputed by the real experts on drugs and by the American people.

From a practical point of view, the time for debate is past. Legalization would carry too high a price in terms of money and human suffering. It has very few advocates-polls indicate that the vast majority of Americans are vehemently against legalization. It is time for all Americans to get solidly behind our national drug policy. We know it is not perfect and requires considerable improvement. We must continue with supply interdiction, knowing it is not the complete answer but that it will give us time to concentrate on the education and treatment programs that provide the best possible chance for success for this policy.

We need to support our law enforcement agencies in their battle against illegal drugs. One major weapon that is used increasingly in the fight against drug dealers and users is forfeiture-the confiscation of money, cars, bank accounts, and real estate and the subsequent diversion of some of those assets to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies for use in antidrug activities. Forfeiture should not be limited to drug dealers. Since every drug user contributes to the continued existence of the dealers, we should make drug use uncomfortable and costly for them.

One effective measure that is already in use in some jurisdictions is to confiscate drug users' cars. Young Americans especially may feel differently about using drugs when they know that use would result in the loss of the cars that mean so much to them. Parents certainly take a greater interest in their children's activities when they know their cars are at risk.

Bennett is a realist. He never promised a drug-free America this year or even next. He is convinced, however, that success will come in slow, careful steps, with the greatest enemies being surrender, despair, and neglect. Even if you disagree with some of Bennett's policies, and many do, the totality of his efforts deserve our unstinting support. During his tenure as drug policy "czar" he helped institute viable, ongoing programs, some of which have brought positive results and many of which are improving as we learn more about the problems of drug abuse.

Proponents of legalization offer endless debate, unproved, impractical theories, and no rational programs that will contribute to the fight against drugs. They are ready to surrender to the drug dealers. Are you ready to join them? About the Author . . . David Sims, CPP, is a security consultant, a member of the Dangerous Substances Abuse Panel of the Maryland Governor's Executive Advisory, Council, and a life member of ASIS.
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Title Annotation:legalization of illicit drugs
Author:Sims, David
Publication:Security Management
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Words:2421
Previous Article:I/O psych and you.
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