It is less than half the deaths attributable to alcohol abuse and one-tenth laid at the doorstep of tobacco, I know that. You can say drug deaths are not a major problem.
Tell that to the Reid family.
Since I have written about this before, and listened to the squeals of outraged druggies, I must tread lightly.
The majority of American drug users are potheads, and I've heard persuasive arguments that pot is less addictive than booze and a lot less dangerous because some drunks turn mean and violent while most potheads turn hungry and sleepy.
Locally, District Attorney Seth Williams allows those arrested with a minimal amount of pot to go into the SAM (Small Amounts of Marijuana) program to avoid jail, freeing cells for dangerous criminals.
Pro-pot people say we've filled our jails with harmless potheads, but that's only partially true. The latest figures, for 2009, show that 1.7 million Americans were in the hands of correction authorities for drug offenses, according to the Lancaster-based Common Sense for Drug Policy, an advocacy nonprofit. But the vast majority, 1.3 million, are not in jail, but on probation or parole. That's a lot of convicted Americans, one result of the War on Drugs that most progressives feel is a failure.
Doug McVay, a board member of Common Sense for Drug Policy, sees failure in the approach we take — punishing users rather than educating them, a tool used against tobacco. Dropping punishment doesn't mean we'd soon be seeing a Marijuana Marlboro Man, says McVay.
Something perverse in our culture bestows "coolness" on kids using drugs, making a virtue out of polluting young brains with the risk of long-term mental damage and perhaps lifetime addiction.
My own common sense tells me that decriminalization will increase the number of addicts, and that will increase fatalities. It also will increase the need for more treatment facilities, a financial burden on straight and sober taxpayers.
Despite the War on Drugs, the number of Americans using illegal drugs is rising, reaching 22.6 million, or 8.9 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This suggests we haven't found the right weapons.
The overwhelming majority of the druggies are potheads, but decreases of about half have been recorded in cocaine and meth use in recent years. Maybe the punitive War on Drugs is having an effect? I can't be sure.
I can be sure victory in the War on Drugs will come only when we curtail demand. Among others, Mexico would be very happy, because American drug demand has led to almost 40,000 drug-war murders in the past five years.
It is possible to curtail demand. Within a generation, the percentage of Americans who smoke was cut by about half, partly by education, partly by smoking bans, partly by peer pressure.
We need a long-term, anti-drug educational and PR campaign, maybe funded partly by seized drug assets. That's the carrot. While that is going on, we can cool it on potheads, but keep locking up hard drug dealers and even users. That's the stick.
It didn't save Garrett Reid, but it might save others.
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