Pubdate: Tue, 17 Apr 2001
Source: Tribune Review (PA)
Copyright: 2001 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Author: The Rev. William H. Shirk


The Oscar-winning movie "Traffic" has rekindled America's debate on current 
drug prohibition policies by highlighting their failure and destructiveness.

Although about $50 billion a year is spent to fight the failed drug war, 
illegal drugs are more widely available today than at any time in history. 
As a result of current policy, drug gang violence plagues our inner cities, 
our courts and prisons are clogged, nonviolent young offenders have their 
lives ruined by imprisonment, and ordinary citizens, as usual, pay the 
enormous tab.

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, in 1998 there were 1,559,100 
arrests in the United States for drug offenses - more than for murder, 
rape, robbery and aggravated assault combined. And in the DEA's own 
estimation, only about 10 percent of the illegal drugs coming into the 
United States are intercepted.

Present drug war strategies of interdiction and incarceration have become 
wildly expensive and are woefully ineffective. Considering the fact that in 
a typical year, in the United States fewer than 5,000 people die from the 
toxicological effects of illegal drugs, it seems clear that the ``cure'' 
has become worse than the ``disease.''

One must wonder if it isn't time to end the war on drugs and to deal with 
drug use the same way we deal with other public health issues: through 
compassion, voluntary treatment and education. Legalization would normalize 
the price of drugs, curbing theft by addicts, put the drug gangs out of 
business, free up resources for effective treatment, and make jail cells 
available for felons more dangerous than pot-smoking college students.

As a society, we need to realize that the ``drug problem'' is here to stay. 
The only question is how best to deal with it. The ongoing drug war has 
been futile, expensive and destructive. It should be abandoned in favor of 
a less harsh and more helpful policy.

The Rev. William H. Shirk West Mifflin
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