History lesson: Prohibition didn't work then, and it's killing us now
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SO IT BEGINS. Drug and alcohol testing for teachers. Next in line, students. Then all government workers, and employees of any company that does business with the city or state. Individuals will be forced to disclose their medical and psychiatric care histories, since prescription drugs can trigger false positives. But don't worry, our leaders say we can trust Big Brother and testing labs to keep sensitive personal information confidential. Welcome to the totalitarian world of "1984."
In the debate about drug testing, basic questions are being overlooked: Why should we sacrifice personal freedom just to nail a very small percentage of people who might (or might not) have a drug problem? How is it that the arrests of four teachers -- "several," according to TV news reporters -- indicates our schools need to implement Orwellian measures to protect children, when the real dangers of drug abuse are more likely to be found in their parents' homes?
Moreover, which drugs are the most harmful? Studies say alcohol and tobacco cause more damage than pot. A person can legally use prescription meds like Paxil or Valium to make themselves feel better. But someone who takes Ecstasy to feel good is a criminal. Adults can enjoy a cocktail to relax or get drunk, but woe to the individual who smokes a joint to achieve the same effect.
Dude, it's time we stop living in denial. We can't win the "War on Drugs" because to do so, we'd have to wipe out illegal drug use completely. And that is no more likely to happen than stopping all consumption of alcohol, which was attempted during Prohibition. You remember what happened with that social experiment, don't you?
Apparently not, because we're committing the same mistakes all over again. During the past 30 years, hundreds of billions of your tax dollars have been spent in a futile strategy that has backfired. Just as Prohibition created conditions for moonshiners, bootleggers and the mob to prosper, the War on Drugs has only benefited organized crime, drug dealers and prison contractors. As long as the profit motive exists for black market goods, their will be suppliers who will step forward to fill the need.
Don't take my word for it. Listen to actual cops and detectives who say we need to rethink this country's drug policy. These veteran police officers belong to a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which has put out a powerful 12-minute video on the subject. You can view it on their Web site (please go to www.leap.cc/Multimedia/LEAPpromo.php). They have no political agenda and make no moral judgments. Their message is simple and clear: legalizing and regulating drugs will mean less crime and fewer deaths, and will save tax dollars.
In truth, most people can drink, smoke pot in moderation or take prescription drugs without becoming addicted. A small percentage have a genetic predisposition for getting hooked, though -- somewhere between 5 to 10 percent of the population. Yet we're spending a ridiculous amount of money and resources on outlawing drugs for everyone else. Instead, we should be focusing on reducing harm and crime by giving addicts better options and providing treatment. As it is, eight out of 10 Hawaii prisoners who need help for drug problems get no treatment whatsoever. What do you think they're going to do when they get released?
So here's what I propose. Let's start an island-wide discussion about dealing realistically with our drug problem. In future columns, I'll be writing in more detail about the history of drug use in the United States, the current state of affairs and alternatives worth considering.
I'm inviting members of government, law enforcement, the prison system and addiction experts to share their views. I want you to tell us what you think. There are no easy solutions. But I believe the majority of Americans are pragmatic people, and once we get past certain emotional issues, we're capable of finding common ground.
Or would you rather let Big Brother call the shots? Because that's where we're heading, unless we change course.
Rich Figel is a screenwriter who lives in Kailua. He has been clean and sober for 18 years. His column appears periodically in the Insight section.