The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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February 20, 2008

War on drugs: A senseless battle | It’s time U.S. experiment with decriminalization – filling up prisons isn’t working

Periodically, we read about some drug bust by the police or prosecutors, arresting so and so with so much street value of marijuana or cocaine or whatever.

Yet we know these raids don’t change drug availability in the long run. Everything is quickly back on the street, to set up further drug force arrests.

We shouldn’t be sending Americans to jail on drug-use charges, or for distributing them. Why do we suppress certain substances when other legal ones are more dangerous?

Tobacco kills 450,000 Americans a year, alcohol about 100,000, with drug deaths trailing at around 10,000.

We tried suppression of alcohol during Prohibition in the 1920s, and decided it was a mistake. All that we did was create a new criminal class of dealers and otherwise respectable customers of speak- easies.

Crime flourished among distributors, endangering the public, as did untested alcohol products.

Alcohol is a problem, and there are plenty of alcoholics, but we decided to treat the fallout from this kind of drug as a medical, not a police, problem.

The same with cigarettes, our worst drug problem. We don’t harry drinkers and smokers or hunt down the CEOs of major corporations that distribute these, as we do drug pushers.

Drugs do destroy lives (but not as many as tobacco and alcohol), but not everyone who uses is at risk to the extent the authorities claim, depending on the drug and the person. Yet even some casual users of marijuana have gone to jail for 20 years and more, with 40,000 to 50,000 people currently in our jails on marijuana charges.

The biggest danger, though, is the violence by gangs, which fight for territory – just as with alcohol prohibition.

Drugs are more expensive, worth distributing because of the premium illegality adds to them. Drugs don’t make users any more violent than alcohol, despite propaganda to the contrary about crack and such.

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What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

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