Newsday, March 24, 1988:


           
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         Travis Charbeneau  3421 Hanover Ave., Richmond, VA 23221
            travischarbeneau@gmail.com    Phone: 804 358 0417
                           www.travischarbeneau.com

             Legalize Drugs: use profits to treat and educate
                             Travis Charbeneau
                                1347 words
                              slug "futdrugs"
     PULL QUOTE: "Our drug laws actually make the police the best friends
the mob could hope for."
     It simply cannot get any plainer: current anti-drug laws and
enforcement efforts faithfully echo the failures of Prohibition. The
"solution" there was legalization. Who can help but shudder at that notion
applied to cocaine, heroin; speed? Are we doomed to repeat the alcohol
scenario and compound the social problem of our lust for intoxication with
an expanded pharmacopia of poisons?
     No. Consider the alcohol and tobacco industries, which take in billions
of dollars each year. What if just _half_ their profits were used to treat
alcoholism and research cancer; and actually discourage, rather than
promote drinking and smoking? R. J. Reynolds and Bacardi might actually
fund themselves out of existence in a few thousand years. And in the
meantime, they'd at least mitigate some of the human misery and economic
waste their products now wreak on our society.
     Of course, this is sheer fantasyland when talking about the drugs
alcohol and nicotine, whose industries now form powerful lobbies. But what
about the _other_, illegal drug industry? The $220 million _daily_ spent on
marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc. currently enrich only the mob -- whose
lobby is at least subterranean. What if those revenues were were turned
around to attack the drug problem; in education, counseling,
rehabilitation, medical treatment, shelters, special programs, and; yes,
law enforcement?
        Insane? Immoral? In fact, those words serve best to describe our
current approach to this problem:
     In the insane department, our drug laws actually make the police the
best friends the mob could hope for. Imagine that General Motors had some
mysterious agency which confiscated and destroyed its customers' cars
just before delivery, causing scarcities (or the illusion of scarcities)
and black market prices for automobiles.
     They wish.
     But this is exactly the service performed for organized crime by the
government from the Drug Enforcement Administration on down. Every time
some low-level drug runner gets nabbed with a much-publicized, and often
highly-exaggerated drug shipment, the high price of dope is legitimized;
even raised.
     Cocaine costs just a few dollars a pound to manufacture
pharmaceutically, but runs into the tens of thousands on the street. Users
pay for risk, not drugs, when they make a buy. The risk, however minimal in
fact, is arranged for organized crime by taxpayers in a self-righteous
effort to salve our collective conscience. In effect we collude with the
mob to fix the price of dope.
     In terms of real crime, we get it coming and going. Make a bust; the
price -- and crime -- go up. Addicts must rob, steal, embezzle and
generally devote twice as much illicit time and energy acquiring the same
high as before. Then, unsure at any given time of the purity of their buy,
from privileged scions like David Kennedy to street nobodies, they overdose
and die.
     In turn, drug billions corrupt police, politicians, lawyers, banks,
businesses, athletes; in the already-troubled Third World and at home. Drug
money finances countless other crimes and rackets. Drug dealers kill each
other and innocent bystanders in their endless power struggles. And all the
while, 90 to 95 percent of drug traffic is never even hindered, much less
stopped.
     It is instructive to remember that organized crime was little more than
a cottage industry until Prohibition gave them corporate stature and
profits to match. Now -- with illegal drugs -- we've handed them another,
even bigger plum. What might happen if we took it back, legalized and
regulated drugs and turned the profits _against_ drug use?
     An abdication of moral responsibility? Prostitution may be the oldest
profession, but getting high is certainly one of mankind's most ancient
preoccupations. Herodotus noted the use of marijuana hundreds of years
before Christ. No one knows when alcohol was first imbibed, though it's
significant that a deity, not a devil, was credited with the discovery.
     The desire for intoxication is one of man's most powerful and profound
frailties. Neither it, nor drugs, are going anywhere anytime soon. As we
should have discovered during Prohibition, making outlaws of great masses
of people over this question simply makes a mockery of the law. Perhaps
drug use _is_ immoral. But, in America, as opposed to, say, Iran, personal
morality is a personal matter. The victim of the so-called victimless crime
is in fact the perpetrator. Society only magnifies his degradation -- and
its problems -- by labeling him a criminal to boot.
     What we have now is the true abdication of responsibility. We've turned
a widespread social ill, with millions of weak or downright sick fellow
citizens, over to the hands of mobsters, or, in the case of alcohol and
tobacco, to profit-seeking corporations.
     Suppose the government were to offer the same drugs -- with consistent
and higher quality -- at, say, half the price, to all adults over 21? The
billions in income could then be used to beef up law enforcement against
the three or four cretins still stupid enough to remain in the black market
after the profits were gone. The Third World black market would die. More
importantly, the bulk of resources could be turned back against the real
problem: the addictive personality and the primeval desire to get stoned in
the first place.
     I'm not talking about legal, neon-lit opium dens with Madison Avenue
hucksters and glitzy TV campaigns promoting drug abuse -- in short, not
like the alcohol and tobacco industries. Federal drug outlets could be
located next to hospitals or in special drug clinics where medical help and
counseling is available for those who need it. Not mandatory, but there;
and aggressively promoted. Shelters could be established for the truly
indigent. Real drug addicts could be monitored and deterred from criminal
behavior (which would be unlikely to occur in any case once drugs are
legal.)
     And we'd at last have the resources and revenues to curb drug use by
children with well-funded, readily available programs for drug education
and rehabilitation; and fiercely-enforced drug laws for minors. We could
afford a cop in every classroom if that's what it took.
     Would we all go to pot? Would cocaine abuse, already considerable,
become epidemic? Would Americans suddenly start shooting heroin in record
numbers? Would you? Even with highly addictive drugs like alcohol there
are users and there are abusers. It is virtually the same with other drugs.
     Legalization would not signal social approval of drugs, any more than
state mental asylums show that we approve of insanity. We're talking about
the least evil and most right road through very bad country.
     The Federal Government, inept and blundering though it may be at times,
is not malicious. An agency mandated by Congress to procure, control and
distribute drugs, with all revenues slated to discourage drug use, would at
least take this business out of the hands of organized crime. They could at
least protect and help heal, as opposed to exploiting, those who are
determined to abuse drugs.
     The liquor and tobacco industries now profit mightily from human misery
while society picks up the real tab in lost productivity, health costs,
traffic deaths and human discord. We suffer the same damage from the other
drug trade which operates without the benefits of taxation or regulation.
On the contrary, we waste additional millions on ineffectual,
counter-productive law enforcement, as though Prohibition had taught us
nothing.
     Drugs of all kinds are a blight on humanity. But so long as we are
mortal we'll cultivate certain vices, intoxication ranking high among them.
Moralists may rail against it, but this is cold comfort to society or the
victims of drug abuse. As a nation we can leave the drug industry to
criminals, or dress it up in respectability like liquor and tobacco.
     Or we can recognize this as a community problem which needs community
control, professional help and plenty of compassion. We now have the unique
opportunity to turn the profits of the drug trade back upon itself. This
does not mean caving in to decadence. It means facing an issue squarely and
responsibly with common sense understanding of an all-too-common human
weakness. Failing to do so means leaving a crucial, perhaps pivotal,
component of our future in the hands of criminals.