Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Why All the Uproar over Joycelyn Elders' Drug Remarks?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Why All the Uproar over Joycelyn Elders' Drug Remarks?

Article excerpt

The mild hysteria that greeted Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders' remarks about "legalizing" illicit drugs shows, again, that no major issue drives us crazier. By which I don't mean that abandoning criminal sanctions would necessarily be saner than fighting the "war on drugs" more vigorously. Only that we're emoting, not thinking.

In her National Press Club talk, Elders mused that a new approach to drug control would be worth studying because "some of the countries that have legalized drugs . . . have shown that there has been a reduction in their crime rate." That is undeniable; and the reason is obvious.

The national prohibition of alcoholic beverages by the 18th amendment (1919-33), the closest historical precedent, greatly increased the rewards of lawbreaking. Prohibition grafted a crime problem upon the eternal problem of intemperance. Mobsterism, bootlegging, the bribery of cops and courts, tax evasion, spreading contempt for an unenforceable law followed - such ills as are now attending the "war on drugs."

Though such strong men as Sen. Bob Dole grew faint over the surgeon general's hypothetical remarks, she is hardly the first serious person to note that the violence fostered by the black market in drugs constitutes a growing public health problem.

More than a decade of the latter-day "war on drugs" has seen hundreds of millions of dollars spent in the attempt to defeat addiction by punishing addicts, and to suppress the drug traffic by interdiction. Yet there has been no reduction of supply and the street price of banned drugs has fallen. The black market flourishes, with all its hideous side effects. These unintended effects are not in dispute. It is the conclusions to be drawn from them that are at issue.

Supporters of present drug policy, of whom a vociferous but unpersuasive example is Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, claim that the "war" is failing because it is feebly fought. I am reminded of a similar argument a quarter century ago that the U.S. policy in Vietnam was failing for the same reason - that more of everything would win the war. There was more, but it didn't bring victory. One British critic of the war policy turned out to be right when he said: "Every time the United States doubles the effort in Vietnam, it squares the error. …

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