Is it time to legalize drugs?


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Editorial published December 14, 1993 

Is it time to legalize drugs?

Imagine my shock last Tuesday when newly appointed Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders said, during a speech to the National Press Club, that she thought legalizing drugs could markedly reduce our crime rate. I say shocked because up to that point, it was my belief that the mere mention of legalizing drugs by anyone in a high government position was not allowed.

Throughout this land there has been an anti-drug mindset in government which has been all but impenetrable. Elders’ remarks changed that mood forever. People of all kinds of political stripes have rallied against Elders; some calling for her resignation or asking that she be fired. On the other side of the coin, people all over America are saying “thank you” for the breath of fresh air and the possibility that this much-needed topic will finally be discussed.

In her remarks, Elders said the same thing I have said for years and that is that most crimes (many of them violent) are associated with alcohol and drug abuse. Elders said, “Many times they (drug and alcohol abusers) are robbing, stealing all of these things to get money to buy drugs.” Of course she’s totally right.

Elders is not alone in her desire to possibly legalize drugs. A recent 60 Minute program featured the Chief Prosecutor in Columbia who echoed the same sentiments. He put it very simply stating that as long as there is a market in the States, there will always be people willing and able to be suppliers. You can kill the Pablo Escobars of the world, but it will not in any way stop the flow of illegal drugs. In the United States many highly conservative federal judges are now refusing to hear drug cases. Many retired police chiefs, former cabinet members and mayors of some of our largest cities have circulated a petition calling for the legalization of drugs.

It’s my contention that the crime rate will drop by 70% and the number of people incarcerated in our jails and prisons will be reduced by as much as 80% if drugs were legalized. These are huge numbers. They also represent huge amounts of dollars (billions) which we are currently spending on a “War” which can never be won.

Will the people support the legalization of drugs? No, if you believe the bulk of the media and their contrived polls. However, consider the non-scientific poll taken by KCRA TV in Sacramento last Wednesday night. They asked the question, “Should drugs be legalized?” In their largest ever response, they received 27,555 calls between 5pm and 11:30pm. The majority of the calls cast a “yes” vote – 55.5% saying yes legalize drugs, to 45.5% saying “no.” This is indeed a very significant number if you consider the number of people in the greater Sacramento area and the fact that this poll represents only one, of many, television stations.

Prohibition didn’t work in the 20’s and drug prohibition is not working now. If drugs are legalized, controlled like alcohol and taxed, we will see a huge change in our entire country. Change for the better. Police will be able to concentrate on real crimes. Drug use should not be a crime anymore than alcohol use. Abuse of drugs which leads to some other criminal activity is an entirely different subject. That is where we should be concentrating our efforts.

The argument that legalization will lead to a greater abundance of drugs on the streets and to countless more addicts is not true. Alcohol is legal and yet the number of alcoholics and alcohol related crimes is going down. Tobacco is legal and yet the number of smokers in America has been drastically reduced. These two success stories are happening primarily because of education and peer pressure.

No matter how tough they make the laws and no matter how many people we put in jail, drug use will not stop. However, if we approached drug abuse as a social and medical problem, we can control the devastating effect drug abuse can have. The cost of education and addiction treatment are far less than the cost of incarceration.

Surgeon General Elders thinks we should have a commission formed to study the issue of legalization or decriminalization of drugs. People in President Clinton’s administration are trying to distance themselves from her remarks. The fact is, this is a discussion that is long overdue. If a commission is formed, and I urge its formation, it should be charged with not just the idea of legalizing drugs, but of scrutinizing the social problems that lead so many people to the point where they think they need mind-altering drugs. Among those problems are chronic unemployment, a deficient education system and AIDS to name just a few. We need to work on putting families back together. We need to figure out how one-earner families can survive. We need to make welfare an instrument of last resort rather than a way of life. We need to educate our young people about family planning and sexually transmitted diseases. We need to get religion out of government and back into the home. Children need both a mother and a father and one of them should be home during the time the children are growing up. We need to change the divorce, welfare and family support laws before fathers become endangered species. We need to take kindergartners and teach them how to get along with others and how to read and comprehend. Furthermore reading and comprehension should be the only subjects taught until a student can master them. If, and only if, you can teach a child to read and comprehend, will you ever have a chance of actually educating that child and preparing him or her for responsible adulthood. There is plenty of time to teach math, science, history and other subjects during a child’s 12-year stay in school. The McDonald mentality must go. We need children who can read menus and make change rather than be mindless automatons who need to simply recognize pictures on the wall or the buttons on a cash register. School should be a meaningful experience rather than simply a glorified baby-sitting service. We need parents who are genuinely interested in their children’s future, because the reality is the child’s future is the parents future. We need community policing where officers actually walk beats, get out of cars, and really know the people in the neighborhoods they patrol. We need real jobs for our young people who graduate from high school and college, not make-work jobs at minimum wage. We need to get government to ratchet back the stifling mound of regulation with which they are strangling this country. We need spotted owls, but we need people too. We must seek and find a balance to the problems and perils we face so that people are not made to needlessly suffer.

If drugs are legalized, who will actually lose? The losers will be organized crime types and drug cartels as well as literally thousands of people in government and law enforcement who have been totally corrupted by the unholy sums of money involved in illegal drugs. Privately many in the rank and file of law enforcement also favor legalization; however, to publicly say so is unfortunately not politically correct. The people who most want to keep drugs illegal are the people charged with enforcing these unenforceable laws. There’s a lot of job protection built in to their arguments. The government and most major media are currently engaged in a feeding frenzy about violent crime. They would have us believe that crime is on the increase when all studies and statistics clearly show that crime is actually down. Much of the blame for our crime is placed on drugs; however, the fact that certain drugs are illegal is the real problem. The Dutch government removed penalties for drug possession in 1976 and set up rules where possession of small amounts of most drugs are not punishable offenses. The Dutch addiction rate is one of Europe’s lowest even though heroin is readily available. Street crime and drug-related violence are rare occurrences. Dutch authorities make no bones about the fact that their tolerance for hard and soft drugs has greatly reduced crime in their cities. The social problems associated with tolerance are far better than the havoc we are causing with unenforceable laws.

Before you say it can’t be done, ask yourself why so many people do not smoke or why so many people are not alcoholics? Even if alcohol and tobacco were free, would you suddenly become an abuser? I don’t think so. Drugs, by themselves, are not bad. In fact, if it weren’t for drugs none of us would be here. In fact, most drugs are legal. In fact, most drugs are controlled. And, in fact, most drugs are beneficial. The reality is, we have a handful of drugs that have artificially been made illegal and are being kept illegal so that a handful of corrupt people can profit to the tune of billions of dollars. Unfortunately, while they profit, our country continues on a downward slide.

Should we legalize drugs? I think so. But, more importantly, I believe we all owe this subject an open and honest discussion.

August 4, 2004 – Addendum: Elders was asked to resign and her son was sent to prison

Jocelyn Elders was an outspoken advocate of many health-related causes, some of which were quite unconventional. She spoke frequently about greater drug legalization, and she was a strong backer of President Clinton's plan for national healthcare

On December 7, 1993, Dr. Elders commented at a press luncheon, "I do feel that we would markedly reduce out crime rate if drugs were legalized." Eight days later the Little Rock, Arkansas police issued a warrant for her son’s arrest

  A police informant asked Kevin Elders to sell him an eighth of an ounce (3.5 grams.) The actual amount of cocaine entered as evidence only weighed 1.85 grams, which is less than a teaspoon. Because Arkansas law mandated a ten-year mandatory sentence, Kevin Elders, for his first offence, got ten years for less than two grams. A lot of people, myself included, think Kevin was set up because of his mother's remarks.

Interestingly, after Elders' conviction, the state law was amended to allow a suspended sentence on a felony such as cocaine delivery. But in his case, the judge ruled that the old law applied. Elders admitted that he has been involved with drugs for ten years and has been addicted to cocaine for about three. He said his parents knew of his drug problem, but did not know how bad it really was.

In 1994, Surgeon General Elders was invited to speak at a United Nations conference on AIDS. One of the first questions asked her whether it would be appropriate to promote masturbation as a means of preventing young people from engaging in riskier forms of sexual activity.

  "In regard to masturbation," Elders replied, "I think that is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught."

  This remark, which caused great controversy, lead to President Clinton to ask for her resignation.

For information about the growth of the U.S. Prison Industry visit these sites:

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