More Drug Warring

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Mar 2, 2001.

  1. By Kathryn Jean Lopez, NR Associate Editor
    Source: National Review

    In the past few weeks, NRO has had some give-and-take on the drug wars. Jonah Goldberg broke ranks with NR's editors in "The Right Dope." Then, syndicated columnist and Reason senior editor (and former NR staffer) Jacob Sullum took Goldberg on in "High Anxiety." In NRO's latest symposium, experts Jack Dunphy, an LA cop, and Sally Satel, a clinical psychiatrist who has dealt extensively with drug addicts have their say, along with freelance writer Noah Pollak.

    Jack Dunphy, an officer of the LAPD and NRO columnist:
    Dunphy is one of the more amiable cops. No matter the affront to the commonweal that brings a person to my attention, I try to make pleasant his first steps into the vortex of the justice system. Over the better part of two decades in the business I have hauled perhaps three or four hundred drug users before the bar of justice, and in so hauling I have conducted a poll among them. Though my methods are well short of anything that could be called scientific, the results are nonetheless startling in their uniformity.

    "Do you think we should legalize drugs?" I ask them. And of all those three or four hundred people, only one of them - a young man who did not strike me as being given to serious introspection - responded in the affirmative. The rest of them, men and women of all races and backgrounds, were opposed to the idea of legalization. When I asked them why, the most common answer was something along the lines of, "Drugs have ruined my life. I wish I had never started up with them."

    I find it curious that the national ethos appears to be shifting. In his speech at the 1996 Republican Convention, Colin Powell said that when grew up he was taught that using drugs was not only wrong but shameful. People are finding it less and less so today. Only cigarette smokers should be ashamed, it seems, though I have yet to encounter a smoker whose soul has been diminished and enslaved by tobacco.

    I remember one man to whom I put the question. I had arrested him for possession of heroin, but his previous criminal record was nothing less than opulent. "If they legalize that [stuff]," he said, "pretty soon everybody will be like me."

    Sally Satel, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, practicing psychiatrist, and author of PC, M.D.

    The drug-legalization debate will always be with us. Surely, I agree with much of what Jacob Sullum has to say about the libertarian regime. On paper it looks good but for his vision to succeed, our society will have to stop picking up after people who cannot control their drug use. That is, no public housing for addicts, no welfare benefits, no publicly financed treatment. Until we are prepared to allow people with the "disease" of addiction to experience the consequences of their actions, a liberalized reform won't work.

    The legalization front, however, seems to be manned not so much by people like Sullum but by vocal groups - like the Drug Policy Foundation and Soros's Lindesmith Center - who are infatuated with the European model, like the Netherlands, wherein addicts are given greater access to hard drugs and then effectively become wards of the state when they hit the wall. The motto: The addict has a right to use drugs, society has the responsibility to care for him when he abuses that right. The worst of both worlds. This scenario makes the libertarian thought experiment downright appealing.

    Jonah Goldberg weighs in with a well-reasoned reckoning culminating in bid for a medical cure for addiction. As a former addiction-researcher, however, I think that Goldberg's faith in the development of anti-addiction drugs, while touching, is too fervent. True, the National Institute on Drug Abuse is pouring millions into the development of such agents. A few years ago, the director of NIDA talked about developing a cocaine vaccine by the year 2000; it was supposed to be a veritable magic bullet. We're still waiting.

    To be fair, it is possible that such a discovery is just beyond the horizon and compared to some of the truly outlandish government expenditures, the NIDA medications development project falls safely within the bounds of responsible research. Still, Goldberg should not hold his breath. After all, for almost half a century methadone has been used for heroin addiction. While it works well to reduce or abolish drug craving and withdrawal symptoms and help addicts reduce their drug use, a large fraction continue to use some drugs and remain minimally productive citizens. Thus, while methadone is definitely a valuable treatment, the person underneath the habit typically needs more than medication to help her become a fully responsible parent, spouse, employee, and citizen. That's where solid rehabilitation programs, like the 12- to 18-months long residential Phoenix House placements, enter the picture.

    None of this is to deny that the status quo has its problems. And there are a number of rational reforms we can undertake within the current system to ameliorate the realities and perceptions of unfairness. First, strengthen the diversion-to-treatment system within the criminal justice system. One promising model is the "drug court" wherein a nonviolent addict offender is given the choice of treatment or trial. If he chooses the former and completes the mandated and highly supervised treatment program, charges are expunged from his record. For this to work properly we must continue to distinguish criminal addicts from addicted criminals. The former is some poor guy who but for a habit would not be committing a petty crime for cash to buy his next hit. But for the latter - the big-time dealer who snorts some of his own product or car-jacker who just happened to be high at the time - don't think twice about locking him up.

    Second, for cocaine crimes end the crack-powder disparity. Third, consider repealing mandatory-minimum sentences. Lastly, we need to realize that the "disease" model of addiction is dangerously incomplete.

    To compare addiction to other chronic conditions like asthma, high blood pressure, and diabetes is among the most facile of all concepts health professionals have had to offer. The other is that addiction is a "chronic and relapsing brain disease." The implications of this rhetoric, well-intentioned though it is, is that the addict is a victim of his biology and the drug's pharmacology. I work with addicts and they are nobody's victim. I am in favor of treatment, of course, both detox - which takes a matter of days to a few weeks - and long-term rehabilitation. But to distract ourselves from the fact that these men and women are in a position to control their lives is woefully niave. I see how they make decisions on hourly basis that helps cement their sobriety or invites them to relapse.

    A few common-sense revisions would soften some of the rancor generated by the "drug war" by improving the prospects of addicts caught up in the criminal justice system. In the process they would relieve us from having to contemplate Sullum's theoretical social model or waiting, as Goldberg is prepared to do, for medical science to rescue us.

    Noah Pollak, freelance writer:

    In his sprawling commentary, Jonah Goldberg says that "the truth is, I don't think either [the legalizers or the prohibitionists are] right because drug addiction is not a soluble problem through social policy in a free society, though it is a problem." This is probably the wisest statement in Mr. Goldberg's article, yet contradicts many of his other comments.

    Since the inception of the war on drugs in 1914, prohibition proponents have been discussing drug use as if it is smallpox or whooping cough, an outbreak to be defeated. But no array of laws has ever decisively, or even moderately, deterred drug use, because what drives drug use is the natural human lust for intoxication. That lust will never be stamped out or suppressed, no matter how severe the mandatory minimums or how many helicopters are shipped to Colombia; the government might as well be prohibiting illicit orgasms.

    The best course of action is legalization, without hopes for utopia. We should accept the fact that there will always be some junkies in America. Drugs will not go away, whether they are legal or illegal; some people will make bad choices, hurt themselves, and cause pain among their family and friends, and that might happen more often if drugs are legal. However, that misfortune must be weighed against the untold millions in the past few decades who have had their lives ruined by prison sentences and their futures curtailed by criminal records - people whose drug use cannot be classified as the type of behavior that should concern the government, or anyone, in many cases.

    William F. Buckley, a forceful proponent of terminating the war on drugs, once remarked to a skeptic that "conservatism is the politics of reality." Instead of fighting drugs with the goal of completely eradicating them from society, we would be better served if the government concerned itself with the more humble task of protecting rights, which involves arresting people who hurt other people, rather than the better-living-through-jail strategy of the drug war. Legalize drugs and adopt policies that reflect a tough love for people with drug problems, such as forced rehab for those who commit crimes while high, treatment on request, and the encouragement of private discrimination in housing and employment to ensure that no one need tolerate junkies.

    Note: The debate continues.

    Source: National Review (US)
    Author: Kathryn Jean Lopez, NR Associate Editor
    Published: March 2, 2001
    Address: 215 Lexington Avenue, New York, New York 10016
    Copyright: 2001 National Review

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