The Times’ editorial on cocaine (Dec. 6) states that legal efforts to combat its abuse date back to the 16th Century and have all been unsuccessful to this day. The writer avoids the obvious conclusion: that we need to ask whether today’s drug laws are the solution. We need also to ask whether they are perhaps even more socially destructive than Prohibition was.
Not only does law enforcement in general fail to prevent drug usage, it tends also to create powerful criminal monopolies which account for the astronomical price of a drug habit. Meeting this price is one of the main motivations behind burglaries and violent robberies that are victimizing vast numbers of people. Additionally, the enormous profits from illegal drugs have corrupted police and judicial officials at some of the highest levels.
There are also real dangers associated with decriminalization, but it is an alternative that I believe as a nation we need to debate in deciding how to effectively deal with a problem that is clearly getting beyond our control. Under such an alternative, distribution, sale and advertising would be strictly regulated as they now are for alcohol and tobacco. Penalties for drunk driving could be drastically increased, as they should be anyhow.
The taxes raised from sales could be made available for preventative education and for treatment of those who became addicted. If in spite of our best efforts to the contrary some individuals still chose to risk destroying themselves through drug abuse, that is a decision we would respect their right to make, however tragic or abominable we believed the decision to be.
If we ceased spending scarce resources on what seems like a lost cause, the enormous dedication and talent of our police and court systems could be diverted to more useful efforts. Such efforts could include reducing traffic accidents which maim and kill hundreds of thousands each year and to combating violence and other forms of abuse against the young, weak and helpless. Additional enforcement might also be directed against cavalier corporate violations of environmental laws and against various forms of fraud and violation of public trust in both the public and private sectors. By thus using our police and courts more effectively, we would not only more directly contribute to everyone’s well-being, we might also help create a saner society in which the demand for narcotic escape would become lessened.
ANTHONY J. MULKERN