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Bruce Elfant

Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - June 2010

Last month I wrote that since the “war on drugs” was launched about 40 years ago I could not find a front where we are winning or even making significant progress. To be sure, law enforcement officers are making lots of drug arrests and are seizing record amounts of drugs. Drug interdictions at our borders are at an all time high and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent destroying poppy crops around the world. Yet the supply of and demand for drugs continues to rise.

So what should our drug policy be? Some have advocated for an outright legalization of all drugs, while others would support the decriminalization of marijuana and authorize its use for medical purposes. While most Americans would view the legalization of all drugs as dangerous, supporters argue that the use of regulated and taxed drugs would be less dangerous than the use of unregulated illegal drugs that fuel powerful and dangerous criminal syndicates and terrorists. When it comes to the legalization of marijuana, recent polls are pretty evenly split. Several states have already authorized its use for medical purposes and a marijuana legalization proposition will be on the California ballot this fall. The more than 800,000 marijuana arrests each year account for nearly 50% of all drug arrests. Would marijuana in a regulated form be any more addictive or destructive than alcohol or more deadly than cigarettes? Would any downside of legalizing and regulating marijuana be less than the downside of current usage and the billions of dollars spent each year to arrest and incarcerate many of the same people over and over again? Our nation struggled with prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in the 1920s and 30s. Ultimately law enforcement was unable to stamp out the use of alcohol and Prohibition was repealed.

Many recognized experts and advocates believe that the battle to reduce the supply of drugs simply cannot be won and that the battle plan should shift to reducing the demand for drugs. To be fair, efforts have been made to reduce demand beginning with the drug treatment centers which were included in President Nixon’s original proposal. DARE and numerous efforts to urge people to “Just Say No” to drugs programs have been implemented in just about every community. Some communities, including Travis County, have also implemented drug courts. But these programs only reach a fraction of the people who need them. Very few of the 1.5 million people arrested for drug use each year, are able to access drug treatment programs. Most get out of prison and go right back to their habits and their often criminal ways to support their habits. This just makes no sense. Could adequately funded treatment programs help reduce the repeat offense rate and put a dent into the demand for drugs? The Texas Legislature hopes so. They increased funding for treatment programs but not enough to help most drug offenders.

After 40 years the war on drugs has cost us economically, we have lost influence around the World, untold lives have been lost at home and abroad - and we are not winning. Our leaders must begin to make a serious assessment of what winning this war would even look like, let alone how it should be fought. Or we could continue doing the same things we have for the last 40 years and hope for a different result. Please let me know what you think at bruce.elfant@co.travis.tx.us.



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