Thursday, April 13, 2006
The "War on Drugs"
I am taking classes at the Santa Fe Community College (mostly on line) in order to finish a degree in Criminal Justice. One of my classes is Composition and Rhetoric. The class was assigned the task of a one page essay on the cause and effects of legalizing drugs. I thought I would take some excerpts from that paper and post it here. The entire essay seemed long to post here so hopefully my butchering it will still leave it readable and on point.
The legalization of narcotic drugs in the United States is a constantly debated topic. When you separate the hype and political rhetoric from the facts you will find that legalized or not drug addiction and the crime associated with it will not go away.
One of the problems with this issue is “what some call the war on drugs”. I believe that the catch phrase is part of the problem. The criminal aspects are no different than other serious crimes law enforcement deals with every day. We try to reduce burglaries, homicides, and auto accidents, yet we don't call those efforts a “war”. The fact is people who are in drug treatment get there by way of the courts and law enforcement. Legalizing drugs will not stop people from being addicted. It will not lower the drug related crimes either. Those addicted will still have to pay for their addiction. Addicted persons tend to be unproductive and will still be unable to hold down a job. They will resort to crime to pay for their addiction.
Movies such as Traffic, made in 2000 highlight the many factors that make the drug problem one that has no easy answers. In the Movie Michael Douglas plays a conservative judge who is appointed by the President to spearhead America's escalating war against drugs, only to discover that his teenage daughter is an addict. He is forced to examine his core beliefs about the drug war and just who the drug addicts are. To many those with drug addictions are the homeless, downtrodden who have “created their own situation”. What this movie forced its main character to come to grips with was the fact that those addicted with drugs are our own brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren, and even our mothers and fathers.
In Santa Fe County I have worked in what some call the war on drugs for about 12 years. I grew up at an early age just across the street from one of Santa Fe’s Community Housing Projects. Most of the kids I grew up with are in prison or dead. The prevailing factor has been drugs. Go to any drug addiction treatment facility and ask people why they are in treatment. The overwhelming majority of patients will tell you they are court ordered. How does one get court ordered to treatment? Through arrest or charges filed by law enforcement. It is primarily through law enforcement efforts that people receive treatment. Society does not look at law enforcement in that manner.
Many say the cost of illegal drugs will drop if legalized. Why would drug companies lower costs on a captive audience? Have alcohol prices dropped since prohibition ended? Politicians would put a high sin tax on drugs just as they do with cigarettes and alcohol. The high cost of legal drugs will allow for a black market and the illegal drug trade to continue. Restrictions on the sale of drugs to felons and to those with addictions will be passed also. This would further the black market and illegal sales.
The majority of inmates in prison are not incarcerated for drug charges; the fact is they are incarcerated for crimes committed in order to pay for their addiction or for violence committed during drug transactions. The average criminal is arrested and convicted three to four times for felony offenses before they are sent to prison. These are individuals who have failed to avail themselves of the opportunities for treatment and the chances to turn their lives around with each arrest. Legalizing drugs will not change any of these factors. Individuals will still become addicted. Once addicted, they will not be productive members of society with the ability to pay for their addiction. They will turn to crime as a means to obtain or pay for the drugs. My opinion is to strengthen an all-inclusive approach to the drug problem. We need a good balance of law enforcement, treatment, prevention and education.