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Truce On Drugs
Seattle Times columnist Neal Peirce writes of the success of Washington state's "sensible take on drugs," saving tens of millions of dollars by cutting back on mandatory sentences for possession, and taking other wise approaches:

"This project isn't for fringy, ponytailed pot smokers," insists Roger Goodman, director of the bar association's Drug Policy Project. "We did it for the courts. We can't get civil cases heard for three years. And the drug cases are mostly so petty."

The uncomfortable truth is that despite decades of aggressive government crackdowns, U.S. drug use and drug-related crime are as high as ever. Made profitable by prohibition, violent criminal enterprises that purvey drugs are flourishing. Harsh criminal sanctions, even for minor drug possession, have packed jails and prisons. Public coffers have been drained of funds for critical preventive social services.

Prohibition has failed to stamp out markets and quality, or increase street prices for cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana. The drug war kicked off by President Nixon in the 1970s costs $40 billion or more a year. It is a massive, embarrassing, destructive failure.

But politicians are normally afraid to question the system for fear of being called illegal-drug apologists. So how did the King County Bar get the ball rolling? "It's the messenger, not the message" — the credibility of the bar association, says Goodman. The King County Bar in fact assembled a nationally unprecedented coalition of supporters, ranging from the Washington State Bar Association to the King County and Washington state medical associations, the Church Council of Greater Seattle and the League of Women Voters of Seattle and Washington.

And the first-stated goals weren't scuttling drug laws. Instead, the bar association announced its platform as (1) reductions in crime and disorder — "to undercut the violent, illegal markets that spawn disease, crime, corruption, mayhem and death"; (2) improving public health by stemming the spread of blood-borne diseases; (3) better protection of children from the harm of drugs, and (4) wiser use of scarce public resources.

Now the bar association and its allies are asking the Legislature to establish a commission of experts to design how the state can switch from punitive approaches to a focus on treatment, shutting down the criminal gangs that now control the drug trade.

Posted by aalkon at August 30, 2006 10:25 AM

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