Proponents of legalized marijuana make the point that it is not as harmful in its health and social consequences as alcohol, and they might be right. But that doesn’t mean its effects are benign or that legalization will eliminate all criminal activity associated with its manufacture, sale and usage. If alcohol and tobacco were new on the scene today and we were aware of their potential harmful, sometimes lethal, consequences, would we still legalize them?
Legalization advocates are sometimes long on rhetoric, but short on facts. They tend to rely on anecdotal nonsense such as, “Who ever heard of a guy high on pot going home and beating up his wife?” And as for legalizing drugs in general, we should go to school on someone who has already tried it.
I have been to Amsterdam, “The Drug Mecca of the Western World,” where prostitution is legal and soft drugs are tolerated. The city itself had a seedy aura about it, and many of the people whom we met in everyday situations were obviously high on something. I especially remember a druggy taxi driver who scared us out of our wits. And Dutch people we met there from other cities begged us not to judge their country by Amsterdam.
Amsterdam police estimate that 80 percent of property crimes there are committed by addicts. And while the Dutch get not one penny of tax revenue from drug sales, addicts account for 50 percent of their prison population. Although legalization advocates claim marijuana use has not increased in Amsterdam, the number of drug cafes there grew from 30 to 300 in one decade.
Switzerland tried a similar policy with similar results. Andres Oehler, a Zurich municipal spokesman stated, “It was felt that the situation got out of control in every case.” Switzerland abandoned its legalization experiment in 1992. After legalizing marijuana, cocaine and heroin use, Spain and Italy now have the most drug abuse and overdose cases in Europe.
No doubt, we have lost our own war on drugs. But, in my opinion, legalization or decriminalization isn’t the answer. So what is, better law enforcement?
Efforts to interdict the drug supply here have been largely futile. There is too much money in drug trafficking, and the corruption among low-paid Latin American law enforcement agents is epidemic. Cocaine is easy to grow and process, light in weight to ship and has a long shelf life. Compared to bananas, it’s a cup of tea to grow and export. In this country, growing pot and manufacturing meth is almost impossible to stop, and our prison systems are overflowing with convicted drug dealers.
“Just say no” doesn’t work either, and never has. We must attack the demand side of this equation with education and direct, rigorous action. Confronting drug abuse among America’s young people requires the efforts of parents, educators, law enforcement and justice officials, clergy and social workers working in concert. Parents, teachers and police must learn to be nosier and to recognize and report drug activity and behavior immediately when they suspect it. They must be more assertive, even aggressive, when necessary. Minors have few rights when it comes to the purchase, possession and use of illegal substances.
A tough legal, social and cultural offensive is worth trying.
Or shall it be Amsterdam, U.S.A.?
George B. Reed, Jr. is retired from AT&T and a former history teacher in the Hamilton County school system. He lives in Fort Oglethorpe and can be reached at email@example.com or 706-858-3501.