An Effective Drug Policy to Protect America's Youth and Communities

By Hutchinson, Asa | Fordham Urban Law Journal, January 2003 | Go to article overview

An Effective Drug Policy to Protect America's Youth and Communities


Hutchinson, Asa, Fordham Urban Law Journal


INTRODUCTION

Drug abuse and addiction, and the government's response to these problems, are frequently and appropriately a topic of public debate. (1) Some argue that because we have not completely eradicated all illegal drug abuse, we should legalize the manufacture and distribution of all drugs, including cocaine, "crack" cocaine, Ecstasy, heroin, and other drugs that are highly addictive and dangerous. Some people agree that certain illegal drugs should remain illegal, but that other drugs, marijuana, for example, should be legalized, or, at least, decriminalized. (2) Some of these proposals stem from frustrations that the problem of drug abuse has not been completely solved, and that this problem would be better dealt with as a medical or health issue. In addition, proponents of legalization and decriminalization claim that the federal government focuses entirely on criminal enforcement, and not on prevention and treatment. (3) Proponents of marijuana legalization or decriminalization claim that smoking marijuana is safe, it has a proven medical use, and the criminal laws are being used to impose harsh prison sentences on people that used or possessed small amounts of marijuana. These claims have no factual or scientific basis. Before drawing any conclusions about the effectiveness of federal drug policy, it would be helpful to review the federal government's successes to date, review the scientific studies concerning marijuana use, and apply what has been learned from the past to our present circumstances and future drug strategy. (4)

I. DRUG USE IN AMERICA

Proponents of legalization frequently cite the large number of illegal drug abusers in America as a basis to legalize some or all drugs. These are the facts. 7.1 percent of the U.S. population aged twelve or older uses illegal drugs. (5) Recent statistics indicate that drug use by persons aged twelve and older went from 6.3 percent in 2000 to 7.1 percent in 2001. (6) Over the longer term, however, per capita drug use in America is down by one-half since the late 1970s. (7) Since the age groups that report the highest percentage of drug use are ages fourteen through twenty-five, (8) it is clear that when we reduce illegal drug use, we are reducing the number of young people harmed by the health and other consequences of illegal drugs. In addition, per capita cocaine use is down by seventy-three percent during the same period. (9) In a recent survey conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, almost two-thirds of teenagers said that their school is drug free. (10) For the first time in the seven-year history of the survey, a majority of public school students reported drug-free schools. (11) According to the survey, "[t]eens who attend drug-free schools are at roughly half the risk of substance abuse of teens who attend schools where drugs are used, kept or sold." (12)

II. LAW ENFORCEMENT IS PREVENTING A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF ILLEGAL DRUGS FROM REACHING OUR COMMUNITIES

In addition to an overall reduction in the number of persons abusing illegal drugs, law enforcement has made significant inroads in the fight against traffickers. The strategy against traffickers is proactive, targeting growers, the chemicals needed to manufacture or process illegal drugs, and the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. The DEA's priority mission is the long-term immobilization of major drug trafficking organizations through removal of their leaders, termination of their trafficking networks, seizure of their assets, and dismantling their organizational structure. (13) For example, DEA's Operation Purple is working in twenty-eight countries to prevent the diversion of potassium permanganate, a chemical needed to manufacture cocaine, to cocaine producers. (14) Operations Crossroads II and Caribe I involved year-long investigations that targeted an international organization based in Puerto Rico that trafficked in multi-hundred kilogram quantities of cocaine and multi-kilogram quantities of heroin and laundered millions of United States dollars in drug proceeds. …

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