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
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
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
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
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
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
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