Pubdate: Thu, 29 Nov 2001
Source: Colorado Springs Independent Newsweekly (CO)
Copyright: 2001 Colorado Springs Independent
Author: Robert Sharpe,
Cited: Criminal Justice Reform Coalition


To the Editor:

Christie Donner of the Boulder-based Criminal Justice Reform Coalition is to
be commended for raising awareness of the high cost of America's punitive
approach to some drugs. When reading the Nov. 25 article on Colorado's drug
problem, I was shocked to learn that Colorado is one of only nine states in
which more than half of those in prison on drug charges were arrested for
drug possession. Despite harsh penalties, drug use in Colorado ranks high;
in fact the state leads the nation in marijuana use.

Could it be that the forbidden fruit appeal of banned substances actually
encourages use? A majority of European countries have decriminalized
marijuana. Draconian drug laws in the United States support a multi-billion
dollar prison-industrial complex, with very little to show for it. Despite
zero tolerance, lifetime use of marijuana in the U.S. is higher than any
European country. (The results of a comparative study of European and U.S.
rates of drug use can be found online at: ( ))

Colorado's high incarceration rate does not necessarily make the state
safer. Prisons transmit violent habits and values rather than reduce them.
Most non-violent drug offenders are eventually released, with dismal job
opportunities due to criminal records. Turning recreational drug users into
hardened criminals is not a good use of tax dollars.

At present there is a glaring double standard in place. Alcohol and tobacco
are by far the two deadliest recreational drugs, yet the government does not
make it their business to actively destroy the lives of drinkers and
smokers. Would alcoholics even seek treatment for their illness if doing so
were tantamount to confessing to criminal activity? Instead of wasting
billions incarcerating non-violent drug offenders, we should be funding
cost-effective drug treatment.

Robert Sharpe, M.P.A.

The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation
Washington, D.C.
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