Gathering Place

Jeff Crawford

Drug summit has chance
to smash assumptions

While I think Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona's upcoming Drug Control Strategy Summit (Sept. 15-17) is a good idea, I am concerned that it will end with recommendations for more of the same failed policies that led us into the current crisis. In addition to the damage that drugs create, I hope the summit also will consider the damage that current policies create for drug users, their families, taxpayers and citizens who become crime victims.

I hope summit participants will understand that people who are arrested for taking illegal drugs are marked for life. Their arrest records make it difficult for them to find employment, housing and financial aid for higher education, and to overcome their addictions.

I hope participants will consider that the families of those arrested for drugs are victims of our current law-enforcement policies. Incarcerating the breadwinner or the children's primary caretaker can destroy a family, push it into bankruptcy, scar the children and contribute to a new generation of people with social problems.

I hope the attendees will recognize that taxpayers also are victimized by our prohibitionist policies, which create overloaded prisons, higher welfare costs, and law enforcement and judicial bureaucracies.

I hope they will realize that most drug-related crime is caused by prohibition. Making certain drugs illegal creates a black market for them and inflates their prices. People addicted to legal drugs like alcohol or nicotine rarely have to resort to crime to get money to buy them, but people addicted to illegal drugs often steal to pay for them. Because the black market drives up prices, drug prohibition actually increases the rates of robbery, burglary and car theft.

To avoid perpetuating the problems created by our current policies, I hope summit attendees will examine the accuracy of commonly accepted assumptions, including:

>> Drug use equals drug abuse equals addiction. One secret of the drug war is that most people who use illicit drugs do so responsibly. They hold down jobs, pay their taxes and raise their kids. Although drug abuse and addiction can lead to horrifying consequences for some people, the epidemiological facts suggest that the majority of people who consume illicit drugs do so for recreation and in moderation. Those who commit crimes to support their habits, or do so while intoxicated (assault, DUI), may deserve time in jail, but society would be much better served by treating the majority of drug users differently.

>> We can achieve a drug-free society. There has never been a drug-free society. Pursuit of this fantasy has corroded the integrity of law enforcement, weakened our rights and destroyed countless lives.

>> Law enforcement and treatment experts know best. I hope that the summit will include some people who do not have a financial stake in continuing the current failed policies. Inviting people mostly from the law enforcement and substance-abuse treatment communities will prejudice the results of the summit. No matter how well-intentioned the participants whose livelihoods depend upon maintaining the current policies, their solutions cannot avoid being biased.

I hope attendees will consider a variety of approaches to our drug-abuse problems, and that the criteria will be "what works" or "what will reduce harm for all sectors of society."

I hope that the participants will be open to strategies that have been used effectively elsewhere, such as:

>> repealing mandatory minimum sentence requirements

>> using managed-addiction treatment rather than relying on abstinence-based programs

>> removing the profit incentive from the civil asset forfeiture statute and diverting the proceeds of seized assets from law enforcement budgets to treatment programs

>> using evidence-based prevention programs rather than the ineffective D.A.R.E. programs

One segment of the recovery community has a practical definition of insanity: "doing more of the same and expecting different results." I hope the drug-summit participants will choose sanity and address the harm of drugs and the war on drugs for all of us.

Jeff Crawford is a board member of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.<

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