Let's set the record straight on where the "Drug War" has gotten us so far.
The U.S. federal government spends about $19 billion per year on the drug
war, and State and local governments spend another $20 billion (Office of
National Drug Control Policy).

The Drug War policy has been in effect since the late 1970s and what do the
citizens have to show for this massive dollar and resource expense? The war
has pushed users and dealers to new forms of drug use that are more of a
health risk than ever before. We have gone from 20 percent pure heroin to
70 percent pure heroin, from cocaine to crack, from marijuana with low
levels of THC to marijuana with higher levels of THC, and we have seen the
addition of more and more chemical highs that are harder to detect and may
be more dangerous (Ecstasy for example).

Between 1980 and 1997 the number of people entering prison for violent
crime increased 82 percent, non-violent offenders increased by 207 percent,
and drug offenders increased by 1040 percent (Justice Policy Institute).

Yet, the drug problem is even worse today than it was in 1980. In part, the
reason for this massive failure is that the criminal justice system and the
public have seen the drug problem as a personal problem of users and
dealers, when the focus should have been on the social conditions that
contribute to drug use and abuse.

Recently, La Crosse Police Chief Ed Kondracki wrote a Guest View column
against a marijuana sentencing proposal from the judges of La Crosse County
(Tribune July 1).

I believe that columns exemplifies the worst spirit of the "Drug War" and
the basic reason for the abysmal failure of our drug policy.

One of the main issues connected to the proposal to change the way first
time marijuana possession cases are charged, is the issue of balanced
justice. The Judges' have the interests of the community in mind with their
proposal for making marijuana possession a local ordinance violation,
rather than a misdemeanor crime.

Under current federal law, a 19-year-old charged with marijuana possession
in La Crosse could lose any right to University scholarship and grant
support, while the same person convicted of drunk driving would not.
Doesn't that send a "confusing message" to young people? Marijuana
possession is different than drunk driving simply because the risk to
public safety is different.

I have studied many of La Crosse's underground communities (homeless, drunk
drivers') for over 15 years, and I have not encountered anyone who
possessed or smoked Colombia Gold! The marijuana smoked in La Crosse is
grown in Minneapolis, Cashton and La Crosse County (not an exclusive list
by any measure). To suggest that some direct connection exists between
Colombia and

La Crosse is a throwback to the "refer madness" films of the 1930s. Recent
research on chemical dependence demonstrates that trying to scare "anyone"
out of drug abuse is counter-productive! Education and abstinence, in
combination, are the most effective known remedies for the drug abuse problem.

The chief's essay misrepresents the order of our nations drug problem. The
dangerous and addictive drugs in our society, and the ones that the public
should be MOST worried about - are legal. Nicotine kills more than 450,000
people every year in our country alone. If any other drug had that affect
on public health the police would be stopping every other car to search for
those in possession "with intent to deliver."

Alcohol kills another 150,000 people every year in the U.S. (excluding
traffic deaths). Marijuana deaths? Well the numbers don't even register.
Remember how difficult it was to pass an ordinance to prevent smoking in La
Crosse restaurants? What kind of message does that send to the young people
of our community?

The idea that the community should consider increasing the penalty for
drunk driving, demonstrates the need for addiction education. Addiction, in
any chemical form, causes some damage to the pleasure receptors in the brain.

Once damaged, the synthetic chemical becomes the only stimulate that can
activate those receptors.

Currently, neurologists believe that at least nine months of abstinence is
required to heal the damaged receptors. No fear of punishment deters the
need for pleasure. To fight drug abuse the police, the justice system, and
the public need to understand that fear does not deter drug abuse.

Whether we are talking about tobacco or heroine addiction, deterrence can
only come from abstinence and education.

La Crosse County has a unique opportunity to establish a Drug Court that
would handle drug cases in a specific courtroom setting. The Drug Court
goal is to encourage offenders to enter a program of sobriety, work, and
community service.

To date, the United States has only 483 operating Drug Courts. The success
recorded by the Drug Court system are truly remarkable; over 70 percent of
those in Drug Court complete their sentence and end up productive,
involved, and sound citizens of their community.

In Buffalo, N.Y., the police were skeptical of the program, but were
required to attend the sentence completion court appearance of the person
they arrested. The amazing transformation from what some officers' thought
was a down and out loser, to a bright, enthusiastic, clean citizen helped
reshape the police officers' understanding of addiction, and the problem of
drug use in society in general. I think that kind of transformation in
understanding needs to happen in La Crosse.

Newshawk: Drug Policy Forum of Wisconsin www.drugsense.org/dpfwi/
Pubdate: Fri, 27 Jul 2001
Source: La Crosse Tribune (WI)
Copyright: 2001, The La Crosse Tribune
Contact: letters@lacrossetribune.com
Website: http://www.lacrossetribune.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/229
Author: Bill Zollweg Galesville, WI
Note: Zollweg is professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La