Friday, September 27, 2013

Legalize Drugs - Conserve Valuable Time & Resources

This article was written by Melissa Clark as original content for Rising Action:

Legalize Drugs - Conserve Valuable Time & Resources

While the face of politics may be changing both locally and nationally, the message for freedom of choice and personal liberty remains the same. Libertarianism is changing too, with the emergence of new political parties such as the Personal Freedom Party and the Objectivist Party in response to divergence of objectives in the Libertarian movement. The platform on personal freedom under the Constitution however remains unchanged.

Taking the Pragmatic View on Drugs

America has more people behind bars than any other country in the world. With federal prisons at 40% over capacity and almost half of their inmates serving sentences for drug-related crime, it is time to take decisive action.

Plans have been unveiled this week by Attorney General Eric Holder to change the way in which low-level drug offenders are dealt with under the legal system. Proposals have been put forward that the Justice Department is to direct federal prosecutors in low-level drug cases to charge defendants on a basis under which they would not be subject to existing mandatory sentences. This is to be achieved by omitting the amount of drugs involved from the paperwork charging the defendant, ensuring that non-violent defendants with little or no criminal history will not receive long sentences. Labelling mandatory sentences currently required under the criminal justice system as unjust, Holder has mandated modification of charging policies to sidestep the charging of low level drug offenders altogether.

With the "War on Drugs" now in its fifth decade, it is clearly completely ineffective and has done little more than expend valuable resources which would be far better spent elsewhere.

Legalization not Decriminalization

The government has no right to interfere with or dictate to any citizen what they may or may not put into their body. Before the 1914 Harrison Opiate Control Act, many drugs which today are illegal to sell, have or use were freely available. At a time when it was perfectly legal to use cocaine, heroin or marijuana, very few Americans did so, with only 0.25% of citizens being regular users. After having spent nearly a trillion dollars, the number of opiate users has increased to around 3% of the population. A recent poll found that 99.4% of Americans, when asked if they would use hard drugs such as cocaine if it were made legal, said no. This is on a par with usage rates prior to 1914; as well as being lower than hard drug use rates in 2009.

The example of the Prohibition of alcohol is there to illustrate beyond any doubt that making drugs illegal simply does not work. Not only did Prohibition fail, but it failed spectacularly. The very reasons for its failure are as applicable today to drugs as it was then for alcohol.

Far from reducing crime and reducing prison populations, Prohibition had entirely the opposite effect. It is on record that thirty major cities experienced a rise in crime of 24% between 1920 and 1921. More money was expended on policing and greater numbers of people arrested for violation of Prohibition laws; but despite this, drunk and disorderly arrests experienced an increase of over 40%, and drunk-driving arrests went up by more than 80%. As a result of Prohibition, more crimes occurred as well as a substantial rise in black market violence. Far from emptying the prisons, Prohibition filled them to capacity.

Treating Drug Use as Illness not Crime

By treating the use of drugs such as cocaine or heroin as an illness rather than a crime, resources can be focused on treatment and rehabilitation of addicts. The solution to drug abuse through treatment and education produces far better results than criminalization ever did. It is evident from the example of Portugal, where drugs have been decriminalized for over ten years now, that offering an addict cocaine detox instead of sending them to prison, where drugs are freely available, is more cost effective and is more likely to lead to sustainable rehabilitation. According to The Guardian, the stance of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is that cocaine addiction and other hard drug dependency should be treated as an illness and that those people who take drugs need medical help, not prison sentences. Instead of being sentenced to long mandatory sentences for their drug habit, addicts should be offered support and rehabilitation. However, it needs to be said that not all drugs or drug use leads to addiction. Furthermore, not all drug use should be considered an illness. Addiction is a kind of illness, but recreational use with control is completely different to someone with an addictive personality who cannot control their use of any substance be it drugs, alcohol or even sugar.

Focus on Traffickers and not Users

UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, spoke about the continuing need to focus on drug traffickers to reduce drug use. He illustrated the failure of the American Government to prosecute the world’s largest banks for drug money laundering on behalf of the drug cartel and said that drug users and addicts need help rather than stigmatization.

Charles Intragio, of Miami-based Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists, commented on the zero tolerance shown towards individuals, who repeatedly receive sentences for personal drug use, while billion dollar money laundering and violation of international sanctions attracts nothing more than a fine.  

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