ReconsiDering The Drug War

(By the way, the capital D in the title is not an error, the group it refers to wants to emphasize it–D equals drugs, you see.)

Post Standard columnist Sean Kirst has an interesting piece on his blog, it seems today is the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. He goes on to ask if we can learn anything from Prohibition in relation to the seemingly neverending War on Drugs and mentions the work of the local legalization group ReconsiDer.

While I largely favor decriminalization, the devil’s in the details. There are several issues:

1) What drugs? Marijuana yes. What other drugs that are currently available in my neighborhood merit legalization? Cocaine? Heroin? Meth? Not as many takers there because the health consequences of abuse are immediate and dangerous.

2) Where? At ReconsiDer’s forum at the Syracuse Common Council a few years ago, the experts testifying admitted that the municipalities that decriminalized first would see a disproportionate increase in sales (and presumably use) because rational capitalists will move into the legal market.

3) Infrastructure. Everyone admits that drugs are damaging to those who abuse them. What is needed is to change our response from a paramilitary one to one of medical treatment and psychological counseling to eliminate the need for the addictive behavior (or at least ameliorate the negative effects.) There are not enough affordable treatment slots now, yet decriminalization advocates acknowledge an increase in drug sales and use (at least initially).

What has always bothered me about ReconsiDer and the drug legalization folks is their zealous attitude. Legalize drugs and we will emerge into a future of peace, love and harmony. The skies will be bluer and there will be no crabgrass in your lawn. Mention any social ill and the ReconsiDer folks suggest that the solution is legalizing drugs. They walk around wearing (sometimes literally, but always metaphorically) “Ask Me About The Drug War” buttons–any stray comment leading to a half hour diatribe.

The neighborhoods I work in have been devastated by drugs. I agree that the paramilitary solution has created a more dangerous atmosphere–everyone it seems is armed. However, the number one destructive substance in my neighborhood–the one causing fights, knifings, domestic brawls and even shootings, and the one that dominates every patrol officers’ time–is alcohol.

That’s why I shy away from the ReconsiDer model. Yes, prohibition was wrong and we need to find a better way to manage our society’s response to addictive substances. But it’s been 75 years since the end of Prohibition and we haven’t figured out how to deal with alcohol. Is it any wonder why people shy away from other drug legalizations?


3 thoughts on “ReconsiDering The Drug War

  1. There is a lot to answer in your column… let me see if I can touch on a few.
    Legalization of drugs has never been promoted by a ReconsiDer as a “solution” to the drug problem. It is, however, a solution to the crime problem. Yes we still have alcoholics decades after alcohol prohibition was repealled and we/ll likely still have junkies decades after we legalize drugs. I don’t see cars racing with submachine guns blazing through the streets in booze wars anymore nor do I see kids selling alcohol o Salina street as we used to. I don’t see organized gangs of bootleggers killing each other and random passersby either.

    You are correct about the lack of treatment slots available for those needing treatmentbut remember… most of the “drug-related” problems society objects to are caused, not by users, but by the business surrounding them. Most drug users are not addicts but recreational users. Our society’s refusal to understand the difference between use and abuse when it comes to illegal drugs (we understand the difference between the social drinker and the alcoholic lying in the gutter very well) is at the root of the problem.

    A small but important point in semantics: You say you favor decriminalization… the problem with that system is that it does not provide any mechanism for obtaining the drug resulting in a black market and the crime and violence that inevitably accompanies it. Legalization and regulation is the sensible way to go. No, it wouldn’t solve all drug related problems but it would get rid of most of the crime and allow us to treat the remaing problems via public health methods.


  2. Nicholas: thanks for the comment.

    first: I take your comment on the difference between decriminalization and legalization to heart. At least for marijuana, there should be a legal market to purchase, especially since we should tax it stiffly to help provide funding for rehab services.

    secondly: I disagree that alcohol doesn’t result in crime problems for society. On the south and near west sides there are more police calls for problems relating to alcohol abuse than for illegal drugs. Check out all the domestic battery cases and just general nuisances–alcohol fueled.

    Third: how do you deal with cocaine and heroin, both widely used in our neighborhoods and orders of magnitude more dangerous than marijuana?


  3. We should probably meet for coffee and discuss all this since we’re both on the Westside but then our readers would miss out.
    When did I ever say alcohol doesn’t cause problems for society? I did say bootleggers no longer cause trouble, that significantly different. Problems surrounding use of the drug alcohol are all too common. Problems surrounding the business of producing/importing/selling alcohol are negligible, at least since we ended that prohibition. Unfortunately we ended it with a “Let’s party!” attitude. No doubt things would be different today.
    As for cocaine and heroin… yes they are more dangerous to the user but neither causes violence and most of the problems associated with their use that we see and have a negative impact on our neighborhood are prohibition-related.

    As I’ve said… legalization will not provide a cure for our drug problem… but it will do wonders to reduce our crime problem.
    The mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, a reasonable gentleman, said last year – “If you want to get serious, if you want to reduce crime by 70 percent in this country overnight, end this war on drugs.”


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