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Let's win the war on drugs
date: 16-June-2005
editorial comment editorial comment
A war on adverse drug policies like the ones promoted by Mr. Emerson would be a good start. As for winning, well, paraphernalia is glad that this is not how Gorbatchev saw the world. Win with no regards to costs is a dump policy, Mr Emerson.

From John Emerson, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Charlotte District office:

Observer community columnist Bill Reeside Jr. wrote ("Call off the war on drugs," May 26) that deadly narcotics such as cocaine and heroin should be legalized for adult use so people can "comfort themselves" and that use of illegal drugs harms no one but the user.

He asserted that the government has spent billions of dollars to do nothing more than spy on its citizens and arrest "common folk who buy dime bags to share with their friends."

He called the drug war a waste of police resources that could be better spent investigating crimes such as rape, murder and property crimes. He even proposed that the government set an age for the legal purchase of drugs and sell them to earn tax dollars.

What Mr. Reeside doesn't understand is that the problem with drugs is not that they are illegal -- it is that people use them.

Drugs are illegal because they are dangerous, not just for the user, but for all of society. The crimes he hopes local police could focus on are largely due to drug use. Legalization would only increase the crime rate.

Some of those "common folk" he mentions manufacture methamphetamine (meth) in their homes with their children present. Once discovered by law enforcement, these children have to be decontaminated of deadly chemicals. This year alone, 73 North Carolina children have been found in homes with meth labs. Addicts make meth at home because it's cheaper than buying it from a drug dealer -- or from the government, if it was legalized. Another problem is pollution: For every pound of meth produced, five pounds of chemical waste are dumped into the environment. How is only the user affected?

Drug abuse drives some of America's mostly costly social problems, including domestic violence, child abuse, mental illness, homelessness and the spread of AIDS. Legalization wouldn't cure these social ills, it would make them worse.

Crime, violence and drug use go hand in hand -- not because drugs are illegal, but because their use affects behavior. A 1991 Justice Department study found that six times as many homicides are committed by people under the influence of drugs as by those looking for money to buy drugs. The propensity for violence by drug users against law enforcement officers, coworkers, family members and people on the street is a matter of record. According to a 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, teenage drug users are five times more likely to attack someone than those who don't use drugs.

Legalizing drugs would have a disastrous effect on this nation. Today, with only an estimated 7 percent of the population involved in illegal drug use, the estimated societal impact of drug abuse is $180 billion per year. If drugs were made legal, some experts expect the number of drug abusers would double, exponentially increasing the social and welfare costs of drug abuse. Legalization in Alaska, Holland and Switzerland had disastrous results -- principally, dramatic increases in crime and drug abuse.

Mr. Reeside advocates the use of drug courts. So does the U.S. government, but law enforcement plays a key role in the drug court system because an arrest is often what triggers the treatment. When treatment is mandated, the success rate is much higher than voluntary programs.

The government uses a balanced approach of prevention, enforcement and treatment in the fight against drugs. One won't work without the other. Do we want more people using drugs? I don't think so. Do we want our children to think drug use is OK because the government allows it or even sells drugs? No. Our nation has never given up on fights against similar horrors such as tyranny, terrorism and poverty. How can we give up on this one? We can't, and we won't.


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