by Thomas A. Constantine
Having spent 35 years in law enforcement, most of it in the New York State Police, and now as Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, I have seen and heard first-hand the frustration of people fed up with crime, violence and drugs.
American life in many communities no longer resembles the quiet peace of our childhoods. Drugs have degraded the quality of life so many of us have worked so hard to improve. Yet despite my ability to understand, and despite years of work to eradicate crime, violence and drugs, I am baffled by the cyclical calls for the legalization of drugs according to proponents, the answer to our problems. The latest entry in the legalization debate was the irresponsible and inaccurate special Americas War on Drugs: Searching for Solutions aired on ABC recently, which pretended to be an objective look at alternatives to our current drug policies.
What ABC did not take into account was that the overwhelming majority of Americans are unequivocally opposed to legalizing drugs. They understand that many crimes are committed by people using drugs not to support their habit, but because drugs exacerbate the users criminal nature. The majority of Americans understand that our crime problem will get worse, not better, if drugs were more widely available and socially acceptable. They point to problems currently caused by alcohol violence, absenteeism, enormous health-related costs. And the great majority of Americans do not want drug users drawn to their communities in search of cheap, plentiful drugs doled out in cafes or public parks.
Why does the idea of legalization appear and reappear when there is so little support for such a notion? Some proponents of legalization are seeking to normalize the behavior of drug-taking, and many of them are people who use, or have used, drugs with little significant adverse impact. Many proponents are wealthy members of the elite who live in the suburbs and have never seen the damage that drugs and violence have wrought on poor communities, and for whom legalization is a abstract concept.
Lets ask proponents some of the hard questions that arise from their simplistic proposal. Would we legalize all drugs--cocaine, heroin, and LSD, as well as marijuana? Who could obtain these drugs--only adults? Who would distribute these drugs--private companies, doctors or the government? Should the inner city be the central distribution point, or should we have drug supermarkets in Scarsdale, Chevy Chase and the Main Line? How much are we willing to pay to address the costs of increased drug use? How will we deal with the black market that will surely be created to satisfy the need for cheaper, purer drugs? And when the legalizers answer all these questions, ask them this: Can we set up a pilot legalization program on your block?
Our national and international efforts to reduce the supply and use of drugs have a long way to go. There are no easy answers, no quick fixes. A single television special wont solve our drug problem. It took us 25 years to get to this point in our current wave of drug use, and it will take us a little longer to address it. We have made significant gains in reducing drug use: The 1993 Household Survey released last summer indicated unequivocally that drug use declined significantly from 1979 to 1993. Success will not happen overnight, but we know what works; a constant, unflagging multi-faceted effort to dismantle drug trafficking networks, educating our population about the dangers of drugs and ensuring certain sanctions against drug trafficking and use.
Legalizing drugs is not a viable answer or a rational policy; it is surrender.
Thomas A. Constantine is Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
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