US IN: OPED: Stop Prohibition Of Drugs URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v01/n443/a02.html Newshawk: http://www.cannabisnews.com/ Pubdate: Mon, 12 Mar 2001 Source: Horizon, The (IN Edu) Copyright: 2001 The Horizon Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Address: 4201 Grant Line Road New Albany, IN 47150 Fax: (812) 941-2582 Website: http://homepages.ius.edu/horizon/ Author: Jason Hancock, Staff Writer STOP PROHIBITION OF DRUGS The verdict is in on the war on drugs, and guess what? The drugs won. Yes, the drugs were victorious. Despite having more than a million people in prison on drug charges, more than the entire prison population of western Europe, and an increase in spending on the war from $1 billion in 1980 to $20 billion last year, drugs are as available as ever. The drug war has failed. Like all Americans, I demand to be safe at home and on the streets. Also, I would love for everyone to be healthy and free of drug dependence. However, current drug laws do not help, and the victims of those laws are your personal liberty and its companion, responsibility. It is time to consider legalizing drugs. The supply of drugs has not been hampered in any serious way by the war. A commission on federal law-enforcement practices chaired by former FBI director William Webster concluded that despite a record number of seizures and a flood of legislation, they were not aware of any evidence that the flow of narcotics into the United States has been reduced. The only thing accomplished by this war is billions of dollars squandered and civil liberties mangled. In the 1920s, alcohol was made illegal by Prohibition. The result: organized crime. Criminals jumped at the chance to supply the demand for liquor. The streets became battlegrounds. Civil rights were trampled in the hapless attempt to keep people from drinking. When the American people saw what Prohibition was doing to them, they supported its repeal. Today's war of drugs is a re-run of Prohibition. The most valuable lesson that can be drawn from the Prohibition experience is that government cannot effectively engineer social arrangements. Law should treat marijuana and cocaine the same it treats beer and tobacco: restricting sales to minors and jailing users who have endangered the safety of others. It should be noted that no drug is as strongly associated with violent behavior as is alcohol. According to Justice Department statistics, 54 percent of all jail inmates convicted of violent crimes reported having just used alcohol. This statistic renders the prohibition of drugs rather than alcohol a legal inconsistency. As I have said, the only thing that suffers in this war is your civil liberties. Take the right to vote for example. As more people pass through our prisons, more emerge permanently forbidden from voting. Although most states merely disenfranchise felons in prison or on parole, 10 states have banished more than one million rehabilitated felons from the voting booth forever. Who is hit the hardest? Well, see if this moves you. Possession of several grams of crack -- a crime for which urban blacks are disproportionately prosecuted -- makes you an instant felon, while the same amount of cocaine -- a drug predominantly used by whites -- results in a misdemeanor. According to government statistics, blacks constitute only 14 percent of the drug using population, but 58 percent of those finally convicted. What literacy tests and poll taxes once did in containing black suffrage has found a replacement. We have also abandoned our tradition of punishment fitting the crime. Take for instance the case of 61-year-old Marvin Harris, the devout Mormon engineer who invented the transistor radio. In 1991, Harris and his wife drove a friend's motor home back from Mexico. When they stopped at the border, a customs agent found 1,500 pounds of cocaine hidden in the vehicle's walls. The friend has disappeared. Stunned by the amount of drugs, a jury convicted the couple. The judge, tormented that a great injustice was occurring, was powerless to apply his judgment because of federal law requiring mandatory minimum sentencing. The old couple was sentenced to 10 years. Another outrageous aspect of this war is the seizure of property. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is legal to take property from an owner who had no knowledge of it illegal use. No presumption of innocence, no right to an attorney and no objection to hearsay. A recent survey indicates that 80 percent of the people who have had property seized were never charged with a crime. It is time to legalize drugs. This would make it easier for compassionate people to educate and rehabilitate drug users who seek help. Drug abuse is a tragedy and a sickness, and criminalizing it has only made it worse.