Pubdate: Mon 26 July, 1999 
Source: Legal Times
Copyright: 1999 Legal Times
Author: Henry Cohen


To the editor:

Stuart Taylor Jr.'s "Casualties of the Drug War" "Points of View, "
July 19, 1999, Page 18 , makes an eloquent case for eliminating
mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. He fails to notice,
however, that his excellent arguments also make the case for ending
drug prohibition. If it is wrong to impose on someone a mandatory
10-year sentence for a nonviolent, victimless crime, then it is
proportionately wrong to impose a lesser non-mandatory sentence.

The vast majority of murders and other felonies in the United States
are caused by the drug laws, not by drugs. Ending drug prohibition
would cause the price of drugs to plummet, eliminating the need for
addicts to commit crimes to pay for them, and eliminating the black
market that leads to innocent bystanders getting shot in the inner
city, not to mention impure drugs and needles being shared.

As it seems that people who want drugs can get them, and will continue
to be able to get them no matter how much money we waste on the drug
war, it seems unlikely that making drugs freely available would
significantly increase the number of addicts. If we truly wanted to
reduce the number of drug addicts, we would use the money we waste on
the drug war to reduce class sizes in the public schools.

If ending drug prohibition did increase the number of addicts, at
least the people who choose to use drugs would be hurting only
themselves, and would not, in order to support their habits, have to
make the rest of us crime victims. And it would be preferable for
addicts to hurt themselves than to have the government ruin their
lives--usually more thoroughly than drugs do-- through drug
prohibition. Many addicts, with a regular supply of drugs, regulated
by the government for purity, and with clean needles, could function
in society, holding down jobs and paying taxes, and not spreading
AIDS. With drug prohibition, however, we spend about $30,000 per year
to keep an addict in prison, where addicts learn to become real
criminals. We burden them with criminal records, which helps make them
unemployable when they are released, which, in turn, gives them an
incentive to put their new criminal skills to use until we lock them
up again.

There is another reason to end drug prohibition. If we have a
constitutional right to use condoms and to have abortions, then surely
we have a constitutional right to ingest whatever plants we wish.
There is no intellectually honest way not to apply Griswold v.
Connecticut and its progeny to encompass the right to use drugs. If
the government has the power to lock us up for using drugs of which it
disapproves, then it has the power to lock us up for any bad habit or
dangerous activity. It would have the power to regiment virtually
every moment of our personal lives, directing us, upon threat of
imprisonment, not to smoke or drink, not to skip breakfast (and what
to eat), when to carry an umbrella or wear a scarf, not to ski or fly
small planes, or anything else it deemed bad for us (except matters
protected by the First Amendment).

Why do we tolerate such an intrusion in the area of drugs that we
would not tolerate with respect to other bad habits? The answer is
simply that the victims of drug prohibition are predominantly black.
It is not conscious racism at work, but rather a failure to recognize
that inner-city drug addicts are human beings and deserve respect as
such, and that many of us who did not grow up in the inner city would
have become addicts if we had. In the end, drug prohibition is the
product of arrogance.

Baltimore, Md.

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