It seems there are 4 main ways in how to handle drugs.
First, there’s prohibition, what we do now. It’s not working, just like alcohol prohibition didn’t work in the 1920’s. Today, it only funds criminal gangs, murderous Mexican drug cartels, terrorists and the Taliban, and it corrupts society and distorts our foreign policy. But there are other options.
Second, we could “decriminalize” drug possession. Mexico just did this 5 years ago. Decriminalization generally keeps drugs illegal, but makes individual possession or use a civil infraction, like speeding, or outright legal. Dealers and kingpins would still be subject to criminal penalties.
This method has worked in Portugal since 2001 when all drugs were decriminalized. And there hasn’t been rampant drug tourism or increases in drug use. In fact, teen drug use has gone down in Portugal since 2001, according to a CATO Institute (libertarian think tank in D.C.) study by Portuguese-speaking lawyer, Glenn Greenwald.
Third, we could do “legalization light.” A doctor’s prescription might be required and drugs could be sold in liquor stores or registered pharmacies. Former Seattle Police Chief, Norm Stamper, supports this idea. Mr. Stamper is part of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition—which is made up of former police officers, prosecutors and judges who favor changing America’s drug laws. Drug sales could be taxed and ads for drugs would be illegal under “legalization light.”
Fourth, there’s full legalization. This encompasses the right to free ingestion, the right to self-medicate, and the right to use drugs recreationally, like alcohol. There would be low-to-no taxes and no prescription would be required. Ads would be allowed and retail stores could sell it. This was the law until 1914 when drugs first became illegal in America under the Harrison Act.
If we do options 2 – 4, then there’s the tricky question of where to draw the line on the marijuana-to-heroin slippery slope.
So which of the 4 options do you like? And if you like 2 – 4, where do you draw the line? Legalize or decriminalize just marijuana? Or go all the way and legalize everything? Or something in between?
Note that another former Seattle Police Chief, Gil Kerlikowske, is now Pres. Obama’s new Drug Czar and he’s vowed to stop using the phrase “war on drugs.” And U.S. Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) & Arlen Specter (D-PA) have proposed a national commission to study drug law reform. So change may be on the horizon.
Jeff E. Jared is a Kirkland resident and attorney.