What do the following items have in common?

* We have embarked on yet another attempt to eradicate the coca crop in
Colombia, a country beset by civil war.

* Law enforcement drew a direct link recently between terrorism and the
drug trade, moving beyond those ill-reasoned TV spots and arresting
suspects in the Midwest who were allegedly funneling proceeds to terrorist
groups.

* Proposition 203 on Arizona's ballot in November would decriminalize
possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use and set up a
system for the state to dispense and regulate the medicinal use of marijuana.

* Another initiative, Proposition 302, would allow the courts to jail,
despite a previous initiative that said we shouldn't, first- and
second-time offenders. This if they refuse to complete drug treatment.

The simplistic view is that drugs, of course, connect all these items. What
really connects them, however, is the black market in drugs.

It's what makes possible the obscene profits that fuel civil war in
Colombia and corruption all over the world. These profits are what made
drug trafficking alluring for terrorists who otherwise might claim
spiritual purity.

Without criminalization of drugs, there would be no black market, no
obsession with putting drug users away, hence no need for the two ballot
initiatives, one to decriminalize and the other to re- criminalize.

What we've done, lo these many years, is to say drugs are the problem, when
the real problem is the prohibition that jacks up prices so much that both
trafficking and corruption are inescapable.

We have made criminals of vast numbers of Americans whose biggest victims
are themselves. We have made millionaires of the people who supply them the
means. Our insane drug policy induces profits that create the rivalry that
produces violence in the streets.

The black market is the father of all these ills and criminalization of
drug use is the grandfather. We apparently learned nothing from Al Capone
and Prohibition.

This new plan to eradicate Colombia's coca crop comes on the heels of
another that failed. But even if this one succeeds, what's next? Defoliate
the world?

Meanwhile, the leftist guerrillas waging war against South America's oldest
democracy reportedly get their financial backing by giving security to the
drug lords. The right-wing paramilitary there also reportedly is in the
drug trade.

So we send military aid to Colombia when the best thing we could do for
that country is to take away the profits that fuel the war.

The Taliban and al-Qaida, before their U.S.-induced deterioration, had long
been trading opium and heroin for gold. Recently, the feds say, they broke
up a Midwestern drug operation that had proceeds going to terrorist groups
like Hezbollah.

But would any of this happen if the black market didn't make it so profitable?

Critics of the Arizona initiative to decriminalize small amounts of
marijuana will undoubtedly argue that this measure amounts to creeping
decriminalization for all drugs.

And they'd be right. This initiative's major flaw is that it doesn't gallop
us toward that goal.

Yes, decriminalizing drugs may increase usage in the short term, and there
are many problems attendant with that.

But our war on drugs has certainly not allowed us to escape any of those
pernicious effects, including criminal behavior so folks can secure these
forbidden fruits. Faithful readers may detect contradiction here. Recently,
I wrote about the need to enact laws that allow for a presumption of child
abuse for mothers who give birth to babies born with drugs in their systems.

No hypocrisy here. We punish the consequences of behavior in this country.
It's legal to drink, but drive drunk and get caught and the law comes into
play. If our history has proved anything, it is that enforcement has done
little to dampen usage and that drug treatment saves more lives than jails
in any case.

There's a slogan hanging in many an office that goes something like this:
If you keep doing the same things and keep getting the same bad results,
you need to do something different.

It's a motto tailor-made for our drug war.

Pubdate: Thu, 26 Sep 2002
Source: Arizona Republic (AZ)
Webpage: http://www.arizonarepublic.com/opinions/articles/0926pimentel26.html
Copyright: 2002 The Arizona Republic
Contact: opinions@arizonarepublic.com
Website: http://www.arizonarepublic.com/