In our last issue, Peter Moskos, author of Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore's Eastern District, and former federal drug czar Lee P. Brown debated legalizing drugs. Moskos argued that it should occur, Brown that it should not. A sample of your thoughts:
People are often shocked to find that I strongly oppose the war on drugs. I lost my older brother to a heroin overdose in 1994. He dealt with severe depression, and drugs became his escape. My brother was treated as a criminal, and his disease should have been dealt with as an illness. If he'd been treated better then, maybe he would still be alive today. Instead of putting taxpayer money into the war on drugs, let's put it into research, education, and rehabilitation. When something is broken, shouldn't it be fixed? Isn't that the American way?
If we were a free society, people would be allowed to use any drug they wanted. If we were a compassionate society, we would put people with drug problems in rehab, not in prison. But we are neither a free nor a compassionate society. We are a moralistic one. So our response to the problem is predictably stupid.
Eck Rushville, Pa.
Drugs are not good or bad. Drugs are drugs, which humans have used to help or hurt themselves and others forever. At some point, government cannot afford to be a "superparent" and instead should treat its citizens like adults who must make their own life choices and live with the consequences.
As a casualty of the war on drugs, I find it interesting that Lee Brown cites "loss of productivity and employment...the breakdown of families, and the degeneration of drug-inflicted neighborhoods" as "consequences of drugs." Drugs did not hinder my productivity or adversely affect my family or other social relationships when I was using. But the laws that have effectuated my incarceration have definitely had a negative effect on both. Drugs are only a minor problem compared with prohibitionist policies, which keep drug prices so artificially high, and social alienation, which keeps drug users from developing stable social relationships and from holding jobs.
Lincoln L. Nielson
Caribou County Jail Soda Springs, Idaho
How many of the proponents of legalizing drugs have ever been to a "legalized" country? I spent a summer backpacking around Europe, using trains and buses and spending nights in youth hostels. It was tragic to see the number of emaciated youths sprawled about the floors of stations in "legalized" drug countries. Their bodies appeared to be wasted due to malnutrition and drug use. Feces, vomit, urine, and filth littered their surroundings. The legally available drugs certainly did not enhance their lives or the lives of others in their communities.
Don R. Mathis
The unintended economic, political, and security consequences of the war on drugs in developing countries have been devastating. As we learned to our chagrin under Prohibition, it is the criminalization of addictive substances itself that creates such an enormous profit margin, attracting some of the worst forms of organized crime. The difference with illicit drugs is that these consequences have largely moved overseas. When our efforts to cut production and interdict transport succeed, prices in producing countries rise, providing additional incentives to grow the stuff. The drug cartels thrive on poverty, political instability, and chaos and frequently make alliances with terrorist groups that do the same.
Thomas Bethesda, Md.
Why can't we have a compromise? Legalize just marijuana. It's really no worse than alcohol. It's easier to educate and get people off of compared with the addictive drugs. The majority of people, myself included, started off smoking pot but over the years grew out of it. As I got older and got married and as my responsibilities grew, I started smoking less and less until I just didn't smoke anymore. That seems to be a pretty typical progression. Take all the money used in fuel, equipment, technology, manpower, the legal system, and the cost of incarceration used just for the marijuana portion of the war on drugs, and combine that with the tax from the sale of marijuana, and you would have one big pile of cash to use toward fighting the hard-core drugs by providing additional resources, prevention programs, and medical help for the ones who need it.