Pubdate: Mon, 04 Mar 2002
Source: Florence Times Daily (AL)
Copyright: 2002 Times Daily
Author: Robert Sharpe


To the Editor:

So Franklin County schools are turning to drug-sniffing dogs to prevent 
students from making unhealthy choices. It will be interesting to see how 
parents react when their children are introduced to America's 
zero-tolerance criminal justice system.

Most teen-agers outgrow their youthful indiscretions, some even going so 
far as to become president of the United States. A criminal conviction and 
record, on the other hand, can be life shattering. After admitting to 
smoking pot (but not inhaling), Clinton opened himself up to "soft on 
drugs" criticism. And thousands of Americans have paid the price. More 
Americans went to prison or jail during the Clinton administration than 
during any past administration. Nearly 60 percent of those sentenced to 
federal prison under Clinton are there for drug offenses.

As an admitted former problem drinker and alleged illicit drug user, 
President Bush is also politically vulnerable when it comes to drugs. While 
youthful indiscretions obviously did not stop Clinton or Bush from assuming 
leadership positions, an arrest surely would have.

The health effects of marijuana are inconsequential compared to the 
long-term effects of criminal records. The steady rise in police searches 
on public transit, drug-sniffing dogs in schools and the drug testing of 
bodily fluids in America have led to a significant loss of privacy, while 
failing miserably at preventing drug use. Based on findings that criminal 
records do more harm than marijuana, a majority of European Union countries 
have decriminalized soft drugs like pot. Despite harsh penalties and 
perhaps because of forbidden fruit appeal, lifetime use of marijuana is 
higher in the U.S. than any European country.

The war on some drugs threatens the integrity of a country founded on the 
concept of limited government. The Bill of Rights is increasingly 
irrelevant, thanks to drug war exemptions. It's simply not possible to wage 
a moralistic war against consensual vices unless privacy is eliminated, 
along with the Constitution. America can be a free country or a "drug-free" 
country, not both.

Robert Sharpe,

Drug Policy Alliance,

Washington, D.C.
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