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Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Failed War on Drugs

Should illegal drugs be legalized, or at least decriminalized?

In New South Wales, Australia, the Pharmacy Guild funds a needle syringe exchange program for injecting drug users. It provides a free exchange service for users of heroin. The rationale for this program is two fold. Firstly, it is designed to ensure that as many used syringes as possible are disposed of safely, and secondly, it aims to help stop the spread of infectious diseases among users. This program is largely unknown outside the ranks of chemists and drug users. Heroin itself has a fairly low profile these days. It is not fashionable: either for drug users or for media reporters. It is however still an illegal substance and there are heavy penalties for possession, use, and especially for trafficking. The question is why. Why have illicit drugs been demonised?

Is it because they cause people to act in an anti social manner? Is it because they damage people's health? Is it because, people commit crimes under the influence of drugs? Is it because of the violence that is associated with them? The answer to all those questions is yes, but how does that differ from the negative effects of alcohol abuse?

I'll tell you how it differs. Alcohol is much much worse. Although a legal and socially acceptable drug, it is a violent, and indiscriminate killer. Alcohol abuse is a rampant disease in our society. It is an evil curse.

Why don't we just allow people to use whatever substances they want? Almost everyone has something they use to dull the pain of past hurts, the weight of current expectations or the darkness of hopeless futures. If nobody else gets hurt, what's wrong with that? Could all the time, money and effort expended on the war against illegal drugs be better spent?

I heard about his guy named Norm Stamper who was a cop for 34 years and served as Seattle's Chief of Police from 1994-2000. He has written a book called Breaking Rank. He believes the war on drugs in the United States has done exactly the opposite for the people. He says, "tens of thousands of otherwise innocent Americans incarcerated, many for 20 years, some for life; families ripped apart; drug traffickers and blameless bystanders shot dead on city streets; narcotics officers assassinated here and abroad, with prosecutors, judges, and elected officials in Latin America gunned down for their courageous stands against the cartels; and all those dollars spent on federal, state, and local cops, courts, prosecutors, prisons, probation, parole, and pee-in-the-bottle programs. Even federal aid to bribe distant nations to stop feeding our habit."

This is typical of a society which has lost the ability to wisely choose which battles to fight, and which ones to walk way from. The situation in Australia is not as bad as that in the U.S. but surely we don't want to follow their lead.

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