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Should the Cost of Getting High Be Lower?

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To the editors:

I recently read Eric Scigliano's article, "How to Win the War on Drugs" [November 18], and I agree that the current national policy on drugs is doomed to failure. However, I think the article missed the real point. The article even states, "drug use . . . is a private choice into which government has no right to intrude." People use drugs whether or not it is legal to do so. They always have and they always will, regardless of laws and government. In other words, drug use is not a legal issue. In fact, the arguments presented for Legalization are perhaps too idealistic, given today's political realities and the realities of drugs' effects on users.

The article states that the drug laws are sustaining an enormous black market which forces users to destroy themselves and others in order to obtain their drugs. It's not the drug law, Mr. Scigliano, it's the drug! A dollar is a dollar and if I don't have enough money to buy the drug it doesn't matter how much it costs. A user in the inner cities "already awash in expensive crack" can get high on crack for less than ten dollars. I don't believe a price reduction will lessen drug related crime and I certainly don't think it will lessen the drug's use.

The article also suggests that Legalization will eliminate the message that "drugs spell wealth and power." I disagree. Just as the repeal of the 20th amendment did not eliminate the Mafia, Legalization will not convince the drug king to get a job at McDonald's instead of continuing to earn thousands or even millions of dollars a day. Combine this with the government's demonstrated ability to deal with such issues as Medicare/Medicaid, Welfare, Social Security and the Budget Deficit, and I'm confident that after Legalization, through whatever methods at his disposal, the drug king will own the franchised All Night Discount Drug Den that wants to sell me a joint.

I agree that we need to change our viewpoint and "see drug abuse as a medical and social problem." We should continue and perhaps expand anti-drug advertising and education to prevent destructive use. But these things have nothing to do with the legality of drugs. We should address the root cause of our drug problem. Why do people use drugs in the first place? I don't think it's because our government said we shouldn't.

Darius Samsami

Rogers Park

Eric Scigliano replies:

Darius Samsami is right on when he says "the drug," addiction itself, is an immense ill. As a former drug-abuse counselor, I've seen the damage it can do (as anyone living in a city today can see). I've also seen friends screw up their lives and those close to them with heroin, coke, acid, booze, and, yes, pot. But I didn't see prohibition helping any of them; it just made them broke, incarcerated, and more desperate. Contrary to what Samsami suggests, a few minutes' buzz on crack for $10 is not a cheap high when a crackhead becomes a theft machine in order to get 10 or 20 buzzes a day. A wino can stay drunk for two bucks and get by on begging, Social Security, or the pettiest of thefts. That comparison sounds coldhearted, but isn't to suggest that we shouldn't try to help both addicts get free of their addictions. It merely points up the additional costs that prohibition imposes on all of us without deterring drug use.

The repeal of the prohibition on alcohol didn't put the Mafia out of business, but it drove it out of booze and into more lucrative enterprises such as heroin. Moonshine today is a marginal enterprise, but our drug laws have assured organized crime's continued prosperity.

As Samsami rightly notes, the real fight has "nothing to do with the legality of drugs." Easing and eventually eliminating prohibition is no cure for drug abuse in itself. But neither is the cops-and-robbers game we're playing; it just gets in the way.

A partial, and encouraging, analogy can be drawn from the gay community's dramatic success in stopping AIDS transmission. AIDS education and safe sex would have been impossible if homosexuality were still a covert, persecuted activity.

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