Magazine article USA TODAY

Legalization of Narcotics: Myths and Reality

Magazine article USA TODAY

Legalization of Narcotics: Myths and Reality

Article excerpt

When the high priests of America's political right and left as articulate as the National Review's William F. Buckley and The New York Times' Anthony Lewis peddle the same drug legalization line, it is time to shout caveat emptor--buyer beware. The boomlet to legalize drugs like heroin, cocaine, and marijuana that they, and magazines like New York, are trying to propagate is founded in myths, not realities, and it is the nation's children who could suffer long-lasting, permanent damage.

Myth: There has been no progress in the war on drugs.

Reality: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Household Drug Survey, the nation's most extensive assessment of drug usage, reports that, from 1979 to 1994, marijuana users dropped from 23,000,000 to 10,000,000, while cocaine users fell from 4,400,000 to 1,400,000. The drug-using segment of the population also is aging. In 1979, 10% were over age 34; today, almost 30% are. The number of hardcore addicts has held steady at around 6,000,000, a situation most experts attribute to unavailability of treatment and the large number of addicts in the pipeline.

Myth: Whether to use drugs and become hooked is an adult decision.

Reality: It is children who choose. Hardly anyone in America begins drug use after age 21. Based on everything known, an individual who does not smoke, use drugs, or abuse alcohol by 21 is virtually certain never to do so. The nicotine pushers understand this, which is why they fight so strenuously to kill efforts to keep their stuff away from kids.

Myth: Legalized and not would be only for adults and not available to children.

Reality: Nothing in the American experience gives any credence to the ability to keep legal drugs out of the hands of children. It is illegal for them to purchase cigarettes, beer, and liquor. Nevertheless, 3,000,000 adolescents smoke, an average of half a pack a day, constituting a $1,000,000,000-a-year market; and 12,000,000 underage Americans drink, a $10,000,000,000-a-year market.

Myth: Legalization would reduce crime and social problems.

Reality: Any short-term reduction in arrests from repealing drug laws would evaporate quickly as use increased and the criminal conduct--assault, murder, rape, child molestation, vandalism, and other violence--that drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines spawn exploded. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that criminals commit six times as many homicides, four times as many assaults, and almost one and a half times as many robberies under the influence of drugs as they do in order to get money to buy drugs.

Myth: The American experience with prohibition of alcohol supports drug legalization.

Reality: This ignores two important distinctions: Possession of alcohol for personal consumption was not illegal, and alcohol, unlike illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine, has a long history of broad social acceptance dating back to the Old Testament and ancient Greece. Largely because of this, the public and political consensus favoring Prohibition was short-lived. By the early 1930s, most Americans no longer supported it. Today, though, the public overwhelmingly favors keeping illegal drugs illegal.

Despite these differences, which made Prohibition more difficult to enforce than the current drug laws, alcohol consumption dropped from 1.96 gallons per person in 1919 to .97 gallons per person in 1934, the first full year after Prohibition ended. Death rates from cirrhosis among men came down from 29.5 per 100,000 in 1911 to 10.7 per 100,000 in 1929. During Prohibition, admission to mental health institutions for alcohol psychosis dropped 60%; arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct went down 50%; welfare agencies reported significant declines in cases due to alcohol-related family problems; and the death rate from impure alcohol did not rise.

Neither did Prohibition generate a crime wave. …

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