It was at the second presidential debate, and the questioner addressed both President Bush and challenger Clinton.
"On the question of drug policy, it's been suggested that perhaps drugs should be legalized, the policy advocated by Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley Jr." (Perhaps one has become a little sensitive on the matter, but the questioner pronounced the names of the advocates of legalization as though he was going to add, "... and Groucho Marx.")
The debaters heatedly distanced themselves from any such position, and when Clinton assumed office the war against drugs went on uninterrupted, though there was a blip on the screen when Joycelyn Elders, the surgeon general, blurted out at a press conference that perhaps our drug policies ought to be reinvented. The whole of the executive branch descended on Mrs. Elders with flame-throwers, leaving no doubt in anybody's mind that if she had been a white male, she would have found herself an ex-employee of the Clinton administration.
Given, then, the hard establishment position on drugs, it appears a fantasy what the Association of the Bar of the City of New York has come out with. The 50-page report is titled, "A Wiser Course: Ending Drug Prohibition."
There were dissenters in that august body of lawyers, but they turned out to be in the minority, and so we have, on the record, a recommendation by learned and experienced men and women that the nation pursue a different course from the 100-year war we have been fighting.
This was not a wild, extemporaneous session of the New York Bar. In 1986, The Association of the Bar of the City of Now York, responding to a general perception that criminal. and civil sanctions against the manufacture, distribution or possession of drugs (was) not solving, or even ameliorating, the problems associated with drug use in our society, formed a Committee on Drugs and the Law to study our current drug laws and to reports its recommendations on the wisdom of such laws."
As a practical matter, the committee advocates the repeal of all federal legislation dealing with drugs, leaving it to the states to write their own policies. This will remind you of the 21st Amendment: When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, each state was Left free to write its own liquor laws.
The bar committee's report is patiently and methodically set down, and the footnotes exceed in length the text. The lawyers describe the impact of the drug laws on the judicial system. In some states it has become all but impossible to schedule a civil action, so clogged are the courts with drug-related cases. Twice as many Americans are in prison today as 10 years ago.
The drug war has become a war against drug users, and the result is a serious and comprehensive contraction of civil liberties, The narcs can do almost anything to you if you are suspect, and the law permits extraordinary penalties. The corruption is legendary -- police, prison officials and, one reasonably supposes, magistrates. To what end?
The committee asks that question undogmatically. Are fewer drugs being consumed on account of the federal laws? No. Is it obvious that if drugs were legalized, the rate of drug consumption would dramatically rise? No -- only 2 percent of Americans say they don't use drugs because they are illegal.
Aren't dnig prosecutions paying off? No, they are riot. Sending a man to prison for a year costs twice as much as sending him to a treatment center, where he has, on the record, up to a 70 percent chance of kicking the habit.
Aren't we rightly concerned over the violence that would result from legalization? But such violence is problematic -- there are only two drugs associated with violent behavior. What there is a great deal of is violent and anti-social behavior by men and women who in order to sustain their illegal habits are engaged every day in theft, mayliem, prostitution and the communication of sexually transmitted diseases, including to children.
As with the attempt to do away with alcohol, "drug prohibition is also a failure that causes more harm than the drug use it is purportedly intended to control. ... The Committee recognizes the urgent and compelling need to make additional resources available for education and treatment. We believe that even at increased levels, however, treatment and education are riot enough to control this country's drug problem. The Committee opposes the present prohibitionist system and recommends the opening of a public dialog regarding new approaches to drug policy, including legalization and regulation."
I swear, those mouthpieces at the New York Bar sound like John Brown.
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