Pubdate: Sat, 18 Jun 2011
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2011 Wally Jonas
Author: Wally Jonas
Note: First of two PUB LTEs
Referenced: Schaffer Library of Drug Policy


I agree with George Shultz and Paul Volcker "A
Real Debate About Drug Policy," Review, June 11). It's time for this
discussion to happen, despite the fact that it's a topic that
politicians fear to open. It is a dangerous "third rail" because it
will bring on the wrath of those who have a black-and-white view of
right and wrong. The topic is the war on drugs; a war that most people
know is very costly and very ineffective.

 From looking at various sources I gather that the number of people
in prison for drug crimes is about 500,000. Here's something I
learned about the costs of this from a website called the Schaffer
Library of Drug Policy:

The cost to put a single drug dealer in jail is about $450,000. That
same amount can provide treatment or education for about 200 people.
In addition, putting a person in prison produces about $15 in related
welfare costs for every dollar spent on incarceration. Every dollar
spent on treatment and education saves about five dollars in related
welfare costs.

We frequently read that it is cheaper to prevent crime than to punish
it. There seems to be almost universal agreement on this point. But we
continually ignore this and go on increasing the means for punishment
at the expense of prevention. Suppose we did this instead:

(1) Legalize drugs and tax the sale. This would result in more income
from drug sale taxes and less business for the gangs that sell the
drugs. It would also free up police and prison workers to concentrate
on other criminal acts.

(2) Use some of the income and savings to build and staff community
centers. This would provide outlets for after-school and evening
activities for those with idle time on their hands.

While it's a terrible thing to become addicted to drugs, it's worse to
be criminalized, jailed and given no support to cure the habit. We
need to open a discussion about the decriminalization of drugs and
about providing alternatives to use, abuse and addiction.

Wally Jonas

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