To Legalize or Not to Legalize

Article excerpt

TO LEGALIZE OR NOT TO LEGALIZE

THE NATIONAL POLICY OF FIGHTING DRUG abuse by building bigger prisons and putting more people in them has failed. Legalization, though distasteful, can no longer be rejected out of hand. As loss prevention professionals, we must take the lead in redirecting national policy. We should develop a cost-benefit analysis for public evaluation. We should point out the historical failures of prohibition and develop a management strategy for the future.

If we continue to support the same failed policy, then we have failed in our duty. Even worse, by withholding debate we will fail those who place their trust in us. The dangers to our society are too great to walk lockstep into the future. The lessons of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution cannot be rejected as irrelevant. So, let us consider the courage of Franklin Roosevelt when he said, "Let's have beer."

LAST YEAR, I WITNESSED A DEMonstration by schoolchildren in my neighborhood. As part of a drug awareness program, the kids marched around the block carrying antidrug signs and chanting slogans such as "No glue for you" and "Just say no." Though heartwarming, the demonstration was only a symbol and did not touch the real problem with drugs in our society: violence.

Educating children about the dangers of drug abuse has shown some promise. The number of high school and college students who try marijuana is down. Educational programs that are not tainted with Reefer Madness scare tactics and misinformation can build a real awareness of the destructive nature of drugs. As of this date, education appears to be the only antidrug program that has shown any measure of success. But education is a long-term program that needs a protected environment to succeed. If it does not continue in the new decade, it will have had no effect.

Recently, a whole industry was created to manufacture "drug-free school zone" signs that proclaim schools off-limits to drug pushers. They are a nice gesture, and they made someone a lot of money, but they do not address reality. The specter of the evil drug pusher loitering in an alley near the local school is just not the case. The truth of the matter is that kids sell drugs to other kids in school.

Quite frankly, we are losing the war on drugs. The current policies and programs have failed. In the name of self-preservation, we must try something else. So far our leaders have been unable to come to grips with the nature of the problem. They have shrunk from their responsibility to question the effectiveness of current policy and to lay out a plan of action that addresses fact. Misinformation, prejudice, lies, and perhaps even brides from the drug lords have kept the status quo, even though it is demonstrable that current policy has failed.

Congress's Antidrug Abuse Act of 1988 mandated more penalties for both users and sellers of drugs. Thus we build bigger prisons and put more people in them. That program has not stopped or even slowed the flow of drugs. It has not reduced the level of drug-related violence. In fact, it may have made things worse.

People want their drugs. Until their hunger for them abates, there will be a demand. The demand is a crime, by legislation, but the violence that grows out of that demand is the true crime. That crime exists because of the profit potential. Putting the average drug dealer in jail does nothing to stem the flow of drugs because hundreds of other people are waiting to take his or her place in the trade.

To date, drug sales and use have been attacked as a police problem. The results do not justify continuing that strategy. Worse, the approach appears to have been counterproductive. Consider the following:

* Penalties levied against dealers have not deterred persons from entering the drug trade.

* The profit potential is drawing ever more violent persons.

* Penalties levied against users have not deterred persons from using prohibited substances. …

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