I opened The Herald on Sept. 26 and was saddened by the news that a prominent local businessman had been arrested for felony possession of drugs. I do not know the gentleman well but do know him by his reputation as being a real contributor to our community -- active in his church, civic organizations and the community at large. My sadness grew as I thought about his family and the impact his arrest would have on them.
Then my thoughts turned to the impact his arrest and prosecution will have on our community. Here is a man who worked hard to make his community a better place to live. His participation and counsel was sought for many causes, and he freely gave countless hours in service to others. Now, while I have no personal knowledge either way, I would think it's safe to say that the evening of his arrest was not the first time that he possessed or used drugs. He is the same person today he was last week, and, if not for his lapse in judgment and his arrest, we would not have had any idea that he used drugs. I would also speculate that, if not for his arrest, he would have continued to positively impact our community at the very high level that he had in the past. I sincerely hope that his family, friends and the community at large stand by him and see him through his time of trouble.
I asked myself, "Is society better off with the arrest and prosecution of this person?" My answer was a resounding, "No!" Then I began to think of the many thousands, perhaps millions, of others who, through a lapse in judgment or through personal failings, have found themselves in very similar situations. Most of these people are not nearly as prominent as the person above and do not have his resources, but nonetheless were contributing members of society up until their collision with our criminal justice system. Their future contributions to their families and society are much diminished, if not eliminated, by their arrests and possible incarceration.
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Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating the use of drugs, but I do believe that our nation's current policies and the "War On Drugs" are not working. The current prohibition on drugs has had a very detrimental impact on not only the individuals involved but also on society as a whole. After spending hundreds of billions of dollars and destroying countless lives, the evidence is that prohibition has had no impact on the number of people who use drugs. When you look at other countries, such a the Netherlands, which have lifted prohibition, the number of people using drugs, as a percentage of the population, is actually lower than that of the United States.
Just as the prohibition against alcohol created opportunities for criminals and fueled violence, so has the prohibition on drugs. When the prohibition on alcohol was repealed, it put the criminal gangs out of the alcohol distribution business and created a source of revenue for the government. No longer were the gangs having turf wars and gun battles in the street. Violence declined and many innocent lives were spared. The abuse of alcohol is now treated as a disease. If it worked for alcohol, I don't see why it would not work with other drugs.
Too many prisoners
I am not naive. I know there are many vested interests in keeping the current policies in place and continuing the "War on Drugs." The law enforcement establishment receives billions of dollars in grants and funding to continue the futile war. The prison-industrial complex and those who service it receive billions of dollars to warehouse, clothe and feed the prisoners (while continuing to lobby for more prisons and even stiffer sentencing laws). Certainly, the repeal of prohibition would be devastating to the vast criminal enterprises that make billions of dollars on the sale and distribution of illegal drugs. There are many others who also stand to lose if society were to take a different tack in fighting the problem, but much could be gained. I'm convinced that society as a whole would benefit from the repeal of the prohibition.
Albert Einstein is credited with defining insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." Since Richard Nixon announced the initiatives commonly known today as the "War on Drugs" in 1971, we have spent hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars and more than 35 years doing the same thing and expecting a different result. In that time, millions of our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and children have been imprisoned and had their lives destroyed by a flawed social policy. When will our leaders recognize this insanity, stop the "war" and end the prohibition? Our communities, our society and our country will be much better off when and if they do.
This weekly column features opposing views from readers. These opinions are contrary to those expressed on this page or which otherwise take issue with something that appears in The Herald. All commentaries submitted become the property of The Herald and may be republished in any format.