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To legalize or not to legalize.


THE NATIONAL POLICY OF FIGHTING DRUG abuse by building bigger prisons and putting more people in them has failed. Legalization, though distasteful, can no longer be rejected out of hand. As loss prevention professionals, we must take the lead in redirecting national policy. We should develop a cost-benefit analysis for public evaluation. We should point out the historical failures of prohibition and develop a management strategy for the future.

If we continue to support the same failed policy, then we have failed in our duty. Even worse, by withholding debate we will fail those who place their trust in us. The dangers to our society are too great to walk lockstep into the future. The lessons of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution cannot be rejected as irrelevant. So, let us consider the courage of Franklin Roosevelt when he said, "Let's have beer."

LAST YEAR, I WITNESSED A DEMonstration by schoolchildren in my neighborhood. As part of a drug awareness program, the kids marched around the block carrying antidrug signs and chanting slogans such as "No glue for you" and "Just say no." Though heartwarming, the demonstration was only a symbol and did not touch the real problem with drugs in our society: violence.

Educating children about the dangers of drug abuse has shown some promise. The number of high school and college students who try marijuana is down. Educational programs that are not tainted with Reefer Madness scare tactics and misinformation can build a real awareness of the destructive nature of drugs. As of this date, education appears to be the only antidrug program that has shown any measure of success. But education is a long-term program that needs a protected environment to succeed. If it does not continue in the new decade, it will have had no effect.

Recently, a whole industry was created to manufacture "drug-free school zone" signs that proclaim schools off-limits to drug pushers. They are a nice gesture, and they made someone a lot of money, but they do not address reality. The specter of the evil drug pusher loitering in an alley near the local school is just not the case. The truth of the matter is that kids sell drugs to other kids in school.

Quite frankly, we are losing the war on drugs. The current policies and programs have failed. In the name of self-preservation, we must try something else. So far our leaders have been unable to come to grips with the nature of the problem. They have shrunk from their responsibility to question the effectiveness of current policy and to lay out a plan of action that addresses fact. Misinformation, prejudice, lies, and perhaps even brides from the drug lords have kept the status quo, even though it is demonstrable that current policy has failed.

Congress's Antidrug Abuse Act of 1988 mandated more penalties for both users and sellers of drugs. Thus we build bigger prisons and put more people in them. That program has not stopped or even slowed the flow of drugs. It has not reduced the level of drug-related violence. In fact, it may have made things worse.

People want their drugs. Until their hunger for them abates, there will be a demand. The demand is a crime, by legislation, but the violence that grows out of that demand is the true crime. That crime exists because of the profit potential. Putting the average drug dealer in jail does nothing to stem the flow of drugs because hundreds of other people are waiting to take his or her place in the trade.

To date, drug sales and use have been attacked as a police problem. The results do not justify continuing that strategy. Worse, the approach appears to have been counterproductive. Consider the following:

* Penalties levied against dealers have not deterred persons from entering the drug trade.

* The profit potential is drawing ever more violent persons.

* Penalties levied against users have not deterred persons from using prohibited substances. Jail sentences for productive community members who use drugs create criminals from otherwise useful citizens.

* Interdiction of drug shipments from overseas has increased. The number and size of shipments reaching their destinations have also increased.

* Interdiction has encouraged domestic, high-tech drug manufacturing and cultivation industries.

* Huge amounts of capital have been shunted from legitimate business to criminal enterprise.

* The demand for recreational drugs remains unabated.

Every day, violence-prone drug dealers kill each other for control of the billions of dollars produced by drug sales. Desperate, addicted users rob, maim, and kill innocent citizens to pay the huge cost of their habit. That cost, however, is inflated by the illegality of drugs. The street price of drugs is kept artifically high by legislative fiat rather than true market forces.

The real costs involved in the cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of the most popular drugs would make those drugs impractical and unprofitable in a free market. Only because drugs are illegal are they profitable. Our capitalist ethic has been smothered by good intentions--we continue to rig the market in favor of the drug lords. After 50 years of prohibition, an ounce of cocaine now costs more than an ounce of platinum, and the demand continues. We have been unable to reconcile individual freedom with our natural concern for the welfare of the user. We have not addressed the failure of prohibition in real terms or considered the side effects of that strategy.

The war on drugs has been politicized to the point of becoming a Cabinet-level appointment. That, however, is no guarantee of success. The time has come for America to wage economic war on the drug industry. Let's deprive the drug dealers of their profits by undercutting their sales.

When the profit in cultivating cocaine is less than the profit in growing coffee, the growers will turn to coffee. When it becomes more profitable to ship consumer goods than to smuggle drugs, the smugglers will turn to consumer goods. When drug sales are no longer conducted by criminals, violence will leave the drug sale. When drug sales become unprofitable, sellers will become harder to find.

Divesting control of this multibillion-dollar industry from violence-prone criminal gangs requires the same solution used to break any cartel. That solution is an economic program that takes advantage of the free market.

LEGALIZING DRUGS IS A DISTASTEful step to most Americans, but it does have precedents. I do not now recommend legalizing all drugs, but we should begin with marijuana. Eventually, we must recognize that the right to aspire to the heights or sink to the depths resides in the individual.

Individuals are responsible for their own actions, and most people are responsible enough to modify their activities to allow for the duties of family, job, and community. When a government attempts to legislate behavior, with zero tolerance for deviation, it creates problems. In this case those problems far outweigh the desired benefits. Even worse, the desired benefits have not materialized.

Legalization does not mean a repeal of intoxication statutes. Society cannot condone driving while intoxicated, no matter what the intoxicant. Those laws are already in place and require no further modification.

In the workplace, the underachieving employee is identified in terms of lost time, poor productivity, and increased medical costs. Those indicators have been used for decades to highlight poor performance for management action.

The same standards can identify substance-abusing employees and target them for remedial action without police intervention. Private enterprise can identify persons with drug problems, assist those who will accept help, and cut loose those who will not. The threat to profitability and competitiveness posed by worker drug abuse can be addressed through existing corporate sobriety standards and plain old good management.

In the community and the home, substance abuse will remain the devastating force it has always been. Marriages will crumble, children will be abused, overdoses will kill. These tragedies are the price of individual freedom. We cannot deny that they will occur, yet we cannot continue on our present course. People are human, subject to frailties and faults. Unfortunately, the desire for escape from the real world is part of what makes us human.

If we undertake a policy revision of this magnitude, we must be able to measure its success or failure. It is no longer acceptable for a technological society to embark on a multibillion-dollar project without establishing guidelines by which success or failure will be measured.

Goals could include fewer deaths, less violence, a decrease in the index crimes, and increased revenue to the government. If marked progress is not made toward those and other measureable goals within a predetermined period, the program must be reviewed and new avenues explored.

Drug-related crime and violence threaten the very fabric of our society. They must be addressed by leaders who think imaginatively, dare to make unpopular choices, recognize the problem for what it is, understand its historical context, and have the economic education to envision a viable antidrug program. Our legislators must practice modern management and set obtainable goals, measure progress toward those goals, and recognize when a program is not working.

We Americans are tolerant enough to accept the differences in people and find imaginative solutions. Here is a challenge of unprecedented proportions. We can meet it with the same old solutions that have failed since the beginning of time, or we can address it with rationally calculated expectations for success.

Daniel J. Cashman, CPP, is security manager for Petrie Stores Corporation in Secaucus, N.J. He is a member of ASIS.
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Title Annotation:illegal drugs
Author:Cashman, Daniel J.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Feb 1, 1990
Previous Article:When is a drug not a drug?
Next Article:The controversy continues.

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