HERE IS A PRESCRIPTION FOR A CHANGE (15)
There is a way both to increase the quality of healthcare in our country and at the same time to reduce its cost. This can be achieved by allowing pharmacists to provide certain medications that presently are only available through a prescription from a physician.
The United States is one of only a few developed countries in the world that divides drugs into two strict categories: “prescription-only” and “over-the-counter.” Many other countries such as Australia, Canada and many countries in Europe also have a third category, which is “behind the counter.” This category of drug can be provided to an adult without a prescription, but only after a consultation with a licensed pharmacist.
In today’s healthcare world, the talents of licensed pharmacists are vastly under-utilized. This is extremely wasteful, because licensed pharmacists generally are better schooled about the effects, risks and benefits of drugs and combinations of drugs than most physicians. So why in many cases should patients be forced to take the time and pay the cost to visit a physician for advice and a prescription for drugs in more routine cases when a pharmacist generally has more information and actually specializes in this area? And why must the patient repeat the process 12 months later for a refill on the same prescription?
To be licensed, pharmacists must complete a minimum of five years of college, but most even extend for a sixth year for a doctorate of pharmacy degree. In addition, they must pass a national standardized licensing examination, a practical exam and also an individual state pharmacy law test. And after they are licensed, they must obtain continuing educational credits for the renewal of their licenses.
For years one of the main reasons for pharmacists not independently to give professional advice in their specialty about the risks and benefits of drugs and combinations of drugs was that their advice might foreseeably contravene that of the physicians. This could in turn interfere with the relationship between physician and patient. But under the reality of today’s “managed healthcare,” the amount of time that most physicians are able to spend with their patients for either medication selection or an explanation of the risks and benefits of the medications has been seriously reduced. So that objection has lost much of its validity.
Accordingly, I suggest that our laws and regulations be changed in two important ways. The first is to allow adults to be able to obtain some drugs like birth-control pills, cholesterol and migraine medications, or maybe even all drugs except for antibiotics and those that are addicting from licensed pharmacists without a physician’s prescription. Second, before any such drug could be provided, the pharmacist would have to consult directly with the patient and refer to the patient’s drug history chart, which would be stored electronically. For privacy reasons only the patient would have the password to give access to the pharmacist. But once any medication was provided, the drug history chart would be updated to reflect that fact.
What would be the results of this program? Just like in the countries mentioned above, patients would have access to appropriate medications at greatly reduced cost. But far from receiving their medication “from a vending machine,” the professional pharmacists would probably be providing more expert and individually-tailored advice than patients are generally receiving today.
A discussion of other benefits would be addressed by asking the following question: who has the most to lose by overdose or misdiagnosis of medications? Obviously the answer is the patient. As a result, patients would increasingly have the incentive to become more educated about their own conditions instead of blindly following the advice of their overworked physicians. That would in turn shift the relationship between physician and patient from one of paternalism to one of partnership.
As importantly, with all of a patient’s drug history being found in one place, the ability of a drug abuser to go from one physician to another, tell a fabricated story and obtain larger quantities of drugs to abuse would be significantly reduced. Similarly, with the complete record to be found in one place, the pharmacists would be better able to identify possible risks of side effects, allergies and usage with combinations of other drugs, including alcohol. This would further enhance the medical safety and health of the patients.
Finally, since pharmacists would be treated like the healthcare professionals they are, if they fell below the standard of care for their profession, they would be held civilly liable for their negligence, just like any other healthcare professionals. Of course, this would encourage pharmacists who were uncertain about what medications the patient should take to recommend the patient to go see a specialist, and place that recommendation in the patient’s chart.
All of these various benefits we have discussed are becoming so apparent that the Food and Drug Administration is right now looking into this new approach. I invite you to join with me in encouraging them to proceed with their inquiry.
Overall, I acknowledge that this new program would still have the problem of drug manufacturers seeking lucrative marketing opportunities by providing favors for pharmacists in exchange for influencing them on their recommendations of medications. But that problem would not be worse than the one we already have today with physicians. Otherwise I believe this proposed system would go a long way to increase everyone’s access to competent healthcare and medications, while at the same time materially reducing their cost.
And by the way, this change in approach would also have the beneficial effect of encouraging people in general to be more active and responsible in matters affecting their own health and that of their children. In my view this movement toward individual responsibility would justify the change all by itself.
IT’S A GRAY AREA (15)
THE REALITIES OF TERRORISM
What are the goals of Terrorists? This is, of course, a complicated question. But in my view terrorists have essentially three goals, which are:
1) To break down the Rule of Law into tyranny – usually as controlled by an absolutism as espoused by a particular form of radical religious or political doctrine;
2) To have this absolutism take control of governments; and
3) To stifle free dissent against and even discussion about the views and tenets of this absolutist doctrine.
What are the Methods of Terrorists? In my view, terrorists generally employ three methods to accomplish their goals:
1) They employ fear as a tactic by using random violence against government institutions and civilians;
2) They act so as to cause the concern of the general population for Security to be elevated above the concern for Freedom; and
3) They attempt to polarize the opponents of the absolutist doctrine into camps that are hostile to and intolerant of each other.
Who are the Enablers of Terrorists?
1) Those who deprive others of the protections of the Rule of Law for reasons of “security” or fear;
2) Those who hide behind “reasons of security” to conceal their own actions, and manipulate the prosecution of terrorism to obtain personal advantage; and
3) Those who label dissenters to the elevation of concerns for security over the concept of freedom as unpatriotic or even terrorists themselves.
What are the Best Defenses against Terrorists?
1) Accurate and timely intelligence are key. Otherwise combating terrorism is a police matter – a critically important one, but a police matter just the same. No special additional laws were required even after the horrors of September 11,2001 to combat terrorism any more than they would have been required to combat violent bank robbers, kidnappers or rapists. Long before that terrible day the law already had in place appropriate responses for situations involving “ticking time bombs” or threats of immediate peril.
2) Maintain an open and confident America. Today, even though we are the world’s strongest military and economic power and we lead the world in technology and research, we have a tendency to see ourselves as besieged and overwhelmed. As a result we often feel that we have no alternative but to act quickly and pre-emptively in foreign affairs. This has made us look like we are arrogant, uncaring and insensitive bullies, and has effectively alienated us from our allies and created additional antagonists.
Instead, we should re-engage our strengths, which are openness and confidence. These have enabled our great country over the years not only to manage change and diversity, but to thrive as a result of them. This means that we should again promote free and open trade, invite foreigners to travel and study in our great land, and once again show the people of the world by our actions that we care about them and will address their as well as our problems with an even hand.
3) Keep some perspective on the issue. No matter how we prepare or what shortcuts we take with our civil liberties, sometime and someplace there will be another successful terrorist attack. We cannot guarantee that bad things will not happen in a free society. But if we give up our freedoms, we give up our soul, and if we give up our soul there will be no more America to lose. That means that the terrorists will have been successful.
Of course we must be vigilant and do our best to prepare against harm. But in doing this we must try to emulate the British during the Battle of Britain when death and destruction were literally falling down upon them daily from German bombers. They did their best to prepare and to be safe, but then they went along with their daily lives. The fact is that today we are hundreds of times more likely to be killed by cigarette smoke than to be killed by terrorists.
Apply these realities to the world as you now see it, and determine how well the goals of terrorists are being promoted, and by whom. Then try to do everything you can not to be an instrument of irrational fear and weakness – and terror.
“CHARITY BOLSTERS CHP FAVORITISM” (13)
Recently a good friend of mine who lives in Northern California bought a new, expensive and fast car. When his neighbor, who has a similar type of car, noticed it he told my friend that he would now certainly want to make a $5,000 contribution to the California Highway Patrol’s 11-99 Foundation. “Why was that?” asked my friend. “Because that is like buying insurance against being cited by the CHP for speeding and other traffic violations. It has worked form me, my son and numbers of my friends,” was the answer.
So what is the CHP 11-99 Foundation? This charitable organization receives contributions from the public and uses them to provide financial support for widows and orphans of deceased CHP officers, scholarships for deserving dependents, and similar worthwhile activities. Donations in any amount are accepted with appreciation. But, according to the nice lady at the foundation who responded to my call and according to the brochure she sent to me, those who donate $5,000 or more receive an engraved license plate frame that says “Member, 11-99 Foundation” on it, and they also receive a pocket-sized wallet complete with a card with the donor’s name and lifetime identification number engraved in relief upon it.
Now there is absolutely no question that the family members of deceased officers of this great and professional law enforcement organization should be supported, and a foundation of this kind is a perfectly appropriate vehicle to accomplish that goal. But the furnishing of a license plate frame that will allow all law enforcement officers to see that the automobile owner supports their “families in need,” or a wallet that places proof of membership in this organization conspicuously close to that person’s driver’s license will at best be misunderstood by the public. And at worst they will appear to be what my friend’s neighbor said they are: an invitation for favoritism in the criminal justice system for people who donate to this cause.
To be honest, I do not know how effective those invitations are in obtaining favorable treatment from law enforcement officers on our streets and highways. I myself have asked several CHP officers if it makes any difference to them, and they have consistently denied it. But even the thought that these objects might work in even a few cases, or even appear to work, is enough to require that this part of this otherwise worthwhile program be disbanded.
As a practical matter, we will never run out of worthy causes for which donors could be considered for favorable treatment from government agencies. If we follow this lead, soon the California Franchise Tax Board could be giving favorable interpretations on close tax questions to donors who support the agents’ children’s scholarship funds, or the county board of supervisors could be giving the “benefit of the doubt” and approve land development projects for those who donate to the supervisors’ “pet charities.”
You might not be aware that judges are ethically prohibited from informing law enforcement officers about our status under circumstances in which that knowledge might affect the officers’ decisions about issuing us a traffic or other citation. That was not always so, to the degree that when I first became a judge back in 1983 I was offered a wallet with a badge right across from where I carried my driver’s license. (Actually some people might feel that this might hurt us more than help.)
But times and morays have changed, and I believe that restrictions of this kind are fully appropriate, and an overwhelming majority of judges understand and embrace those restrictions. But should not the same standards be applied to supporters of even such worthwhile programs as the 11-99 Foundation?
Now I agree that sometimes it is hard to draw the line. For example, I have a small “organ donor” sticker pasted right on the front of my driver’s license. Does this mean that under certain “close call” circumstances I might be treated with more deference by a police officer than someone without it? Probably not, but maybe so. I know that there is a socially justifiable reason for that sticker to be there, and I never really focused upon this issue until I began thinking about this column. In addition, I really think that the chances that this sticker would even be noticed by an officer much less be the cause of any special favoritism would be miniscule, but should I take the sticker off just to be sure? No, it is still there.
But seemingly there is no reason for the CHP to provide license plate frames or these particular wallets except to provide the opportunity for favorable treatment. Of course this is a legitimate organization commendably addressing a community need. Furthermore, the CHP officers I have encountered appear to be fine individuals who routinely provide a difficult and much-needed community service, often without sufficient appreciation by the public they serve. But at the end of the day, no matter how fine the organization, improper influence is just that: improper.
Many times in this column we have discussed things that are complicated and difficult to change. But here we have a specific area of ostensible inappropriate influence peddling that can be fixed right now. Accordingly, I request each of you to join me in doing whatever we can to cause the following three results to be realized:
1. The practice by the CHP’s 11-99 Foundation of providing any form of object that can be used to call the attention of law enforcement officers to the identity of donors to this worthwhile cause be immediately curtailed;
2. Officials at the highest levels of the California Highway Patrol be encouraged to instruct all of their officers that they are not in any way to be affected by the presence of such information if it is encountered; and,
3. Those people who are presently carrying wallets with those identification cards and/or have those license plate frames on their cars be encouraged as a matter of personal integrity to dispose of them.
Some unintended consequences of discussing a program like this publicly could be that by calling attention to it we could actually start a “cottage industry” of people who would steal the license plate frames and sell them to others who would hope to benefit from some special treatment. Other results could be that people who did not otherwise know about the program now would make the requisite contributions so that they too might receive this special treatment. And finally, it is possible that some members of the CHP who might view this article will see it as another example of the public’s lack of appreciation of the invaluable services they provide, sometimes at the risk of harm, or worse. I hope not to be the cause of any of those results.
But equal justice under the law cannot exist in a climate that confirms some people’s already jaded view that government can be bought. As such, people of good will should do everything they reasonably can to help do away with even the hint that any influence peddling is occurring today in any fashion with the California Highway Patrol.
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In last week’s column we discussed why our policy of Drug Prohibition is not working and why it will never work. That probably was a discouraging column to read for many people. In fact, by discussing the matter in this way it might even appear to some people that we are simply “giving up.” But that is flat out not true. We still have the same goals, which are to reduce drug abuse and all of the crime and misery that accompanies it. Instead we are simply changing our approach to meet those goals. But today’s column will bring you hope, because now we will discuss drug programs that have been working well, both in this country and in other countries around the world.
The first thing to do when focusing upon programs that work is to start by making the same important distinctions that they make, such as the difference between drug crime on the one hand, and drug money crime on the other. Similarly we must make distinctions between someone’s use of drugs, as opposed to their misuse, abuse or addiction to drugs. And we must also focus upon the difference between the government attempting to hold adults accountable for their actions, as opposed to trying to hold them accountable for what they put into their bodies.
So what works? The first thing is full, honest and open education. You show me a problem area in our society, and I will show you how full, honest and open education is a material part of its resolution. The truth is that there actually are some benefits of using mind altering and sometimes addicting drugs, because if there were not, people obviously would not be using them. But there are just as obviously some sizeable risks, so we should focus honestly upon both the risks and the benefits of putting these various substances into our bodies. Education of this kind is working quite well today with regard to the biggest killer drug of all, which is tobacco, and it will work just as effectively with regard to other drugs as well.
Another program that works quite well for people who are addicted to injectable drugs is a Needle Exchange Program. What is that? This program allows a person to exchange a dirty hypodermic needle and syringe for a clean one at a designated location – no money changes hands, and no questions are asked. That’s it. All of the research studies show that programs of this kind do not increase drug usage, and they do not decrease it either. They are neutral in that regard. But they reduce the incidence of the HIV virus that leads to AIDS as well as Hepatitis C and other blood-born diseases by about 50 percent! Regardless of what one thinks about people who inject themselves with illicit drugs, they do not deserve to contract the AIDS virus. And if that humane reason is not enough, consider that it costs us taxpayers about $100,000 for each person in our country that gets AIDS.
Much hope can also be gained from a Heroin Maintenance Program that has been in operation in Switzerland since the middle 1990s. This is a program run by licensed medical doctors that furnishes prescriptions of heroin to people who are addicted to it, and the prescriptions are filled at local pharmacies. To qualify for the program, people must be at least 18 years old, have been addicted to heroin for at least two years, present signs of poor health, had two or more failed attempts at conventional treatment, and must surrender their drivers’ licenses.
By the way, none of these presently illegal drugs are expensive to grow, manufacture or supply. Marijuana is not called a “weed” for nothing; it will grow anywhere. And the National Park Service was growing the opium poppy that is used to make heroin for years at Monticello until the DEA found out about it and ordered them removed. If the poppies will grow in Virginia, they will grow virtually anywhere. The only reason any of these drugs are expensive is because they are illegal. So the cost of the heroin in this program is no more than $10 per day for even the heaviest-using drug-addicted person.
The results of the heroin-maintenance program show a 60 percent drop in felony crimes by the patients, and an 82 percent drop in patients selling heroin. No one has died from a heroin overdose, and new infections of AIDS and Hepatitis have been substantially reduced. In addition, heroin usage in the communities has also been materially reduced for several reasons. One reason is that most new users are introduced to heroin by members of their social groups, and 50 percent of the users sell heroin to support their own habits. But with so many users/sellers in the medical program, non-users have fewer opportunities to be exposed to heroin. In addition, this medicalization program has actually tarnished or de-glamorized the image of heroin and made it unattractive to young people. As a result of this success, Switzerland’s heroin maintenance program is being replicated in Germany, Holland, Belgium, England, Spain and Canada.
Another program that works quite well is treatment. The RAND Corporation published the results of a study back in 1994 that said that taxpayers get fully seven times more value for their tax dollar with drug treatment than they do for incarceration, even for the heaviest-using drug-addicted person. This shows that it is much more effective to provide treatment for a non-violent drug-addicted person, which costs about $3,500 per year, than to incarcerate that same person at the cost to the taxpayers of about $25,000 per year.
For those people who are in prison, drug treatment has also been shown to bring truly positive results. For example, in Donovan State Prison in Northern San Diego County, drug-addicted people who receive treatment as well as a program of aftercare support have a recidivism or re-offender rate of about 18 percent within the first year after being released from prison. But similar groups of drug-addicted people who do not receive the treatment program and an aftercare component have a recidivism rate of about 80 percent within the same period of time! So think of all of the crimes that are not committed; victims who are not victimized; police who do not have to investigate; and prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and juries who do not have to try criminal cases – as well as the prison space that is freed up – all as a result of the treatment program at Donovan.
But treatment is not simply having people listen to lectures about health and the dangers of drug usage. It also involves anger management training, individualized and group counseling, education and job skills, and a focus upon the merits and benefits of personal responsibility. And the aftercare support groups also assist in procuring employment for the subject, as well as furnishing personal reinforcement and reminders of the benefits of staying off drugs.
Holland has taken its own sophisticated approach that recognizes that even though these drugs can be dangerous and that their presence in their society will cause harm, no matter what the criminal justice system does, the drugs are still here to stay. This realization has led Holland to adopt a national program of “harm reduction.” This approach includes honest education, needle exchange programs and drug treatment on demand, but also includes the de-criminalization of drugs. This means that although it is still illegal in Holland to buy, use or possess these drugs, as long as people adhere to widely known general guidelines about quality, quantity and age restrictions, the police are instructed in writing to look the other way and leave them alone. Of course, if a person drives a motor vehicle under the influence of any of these drugs, etc., that person is prosecuted heavily.
Is this program working? Well, the Minister of Health of Holland held a press conference a few years ago in which he said that marijuana usage in his country was only half of what it is per capita in the United States – both for adults and for teenagers! And then he went on to explain why, by saying that “We have succeeded in making pot boring.”
But what effect will these programs have upon our children? Well, as discussed in our last column, our policy of Drug Prohibition is actually putting our children in harm’s way. But let us take that a step further. I have never in all of my experience heard anyone say that being a heroin addict is a good thing, and I will bet that you have not either. So in my view, we should not hide things like needle exchange and heroin maintenance programs from our children. I say we should actually take them there! What do you think these drug-addicted people will tell our children? “Come and follow my lead and really mess up your life?” No, I think they will tell our young people the truth, such as “Look at me. Do you want to grow up to be like me?” “Do you know how I got started? I thought it was cool, or someone gave me a free sample of heroin and I thought I would just try it,” etc. That will be true, honest and a lasting education, and our children will benefit from being exposed to it.
Finally, my suggested alternative in this and many other areas is to utilize the libertarian concept of Federalism. Our great country was founded upon this principle. That is to say that each state should be allowed to employ a policy and set of programs that it feels will best serve and protect its people. Obviously the federal government does not have all of the answers. Let each of our 50 “crucibles of democracy” grapple with and develop a policy that works best for its people, and then let us all observe the results.
There is no legitimate reason why we cannot learn a lesson from programs that work, and put into effect similar programs in our communities. In the meantime, let us convince our city councils, mayors and chiefs of police to make the arrest and prosecution of non-violent offenders for the possession and use of drugs like marijuana their lowest priority.
WHY ARE WE STILL DOING THIS? (11)
Let us face facts and let us not mince words: Our nation’s policy of Drug Prohibition is not working. As a matter of fact, this policy is actually causing much more harm than the prohibited drugs themselves would ever be causing on their own – here and everywhere else around the world. And the irony is that we could literally bulldoze the entire country of Colombia, and even take Ecuador and Peru with it, and that would not make the slightest difference whatsoever with our drug problems in our country. Why? Because if the demand is here, the demand will be met. And if the demand is not met by drugs from Colombia, Ecuador or Peru, it will be met by drugs from Afghanistan, Nigeria or Thailand. Or even here in California! Today marijuana is the number one crop in California. (Number two is grapes, if you care.) In other words, we have failed to repeal the Law of Supply and Demand, and amazingly enough continue to express surprise at that result. And what is worse, we do not even let ourselves discuss the subject!
In normal life if something does not work, we recognize that reality, explore our options and try something different. But even though virtually no one will say that our War on Drugs is working, we continue to spend ever more money and other resources on something that has been proven not to work. “If spending lots of money didn’t work, we’ll just have to spend much more” seems to be the philosophy.
The evidence of the failure of the War on Drugs is all around us. Today illicit drugs almost literally could not be made more available if we tried. Look at it this way, people in prison can get all of the drugs they want. It costs more money, but they are fully available. For example, Charles Manson was transferred from Corcoran State Prison in California to a different facility a few years ago because he was found to be selling drugs from his prison cell. And he was in solitary confinement! So if we cannot keep drugs out of our prisons, what makes us think that we can keep them off the streets of any of our towns or cities?
Every day in our nation’s newspapers there are articles about violent deaths being caused not by drugs, but by drug money. With great fanfare we destroyed the Medellin Cartel. But did it make any difference? No, within just a few months the Cali Cartel was up and running. Now we have destroyed the Cali Cartel. Has it made any difference? Again the answer is no. Illicit drugs are just a big and successful a business as ever.
As an example, just a few years ago the head of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration was quoted as saying that at any one time about 200 tons of cocaine are being warehoused in Mexico within three miles of the U.S. border just waiting to be smuggled into our country to any place where there happens to be a shortage. In addition, even though our government has spent about $470 billion on “Plan Colombia” with our military actions and spraying of herbicides in rural areas, the cost of Colombian cocaine in our country today is only about one-third of what is was in the 1980s. Of course, we are also seeing the same results in Afghanistan with heroin. And in case you have not noticed, violence if not actual warfare caused by drug money has broken out in Mexico along our border, and has literally spilled over the border into the Southwest United States.
Even when the police are successful in seizing a large quantity of drugs, that only temporarily reduces the supply, which increases the price of the drugs and in turn increases the incentives for people to sell them. The end result of this economic reality is that the policy of Drug Prohibition is doomed to failure, which means that “victory” increasingly is simply being defined as slowing down the pace of defeat.
When I discuss this issue publicly, the biggest argument I hear in favor of maintaining our policy of Drug Prohibition, “with all of its defects,” is that changing it would “send the wrong message to our children.” So what about our children? Actually our policy of Drug Prohibition is literally putting our children in harm’s way for each of two deeply disturbing reasons. First, it is easier today for children to obtain any illicit drug, if they want to, than it is alcohol. Why? Because illicit drug dealers make money by furnishing it to them. You might say that no one wants your teenage children to become addicted to cocaine, but you would be wrong, because some people make a great deal of money if that happens. As a result, lots of drug dealers offer free samples of illicit drugs to our children, even on their school campuses. Of course, that does not happen with regard to other sometimes dangerous and addicting drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Why? Because when we make drugs illegal, we give up all of our ability to regulate and control them. That means that by default the strength, quantities and purity levels of the drugs that are being sold and the age restrictions for the buyers are exclusively controlled by the illicit drug dealers, and they don’t ask for i.d.!
Secondly, and I saw this happen continually when I was a federal prosecutor, and later when I was presiding over a juvenile court calendar, every day adult drug sellers recruit our children to help them in their scurrilous business. Why? Because for a relatively small amount of money and the threat of violence, adult drug dealers can have all the young people they want to use as “go-fers,” lookouts and couriers, etc. And then just as night follows day, as soon as the reliability of the young people has been established, the adults trust them to sell small amounts of drugs in their communities. They do this, of course, so that the youngsters make more money, and so do the adults. So then ask yourself this question, when teenagers sell drugs in their communities, who do they sell to? Us? No, they will naturally sell to their teenage peers, thus recruiting more and more young people to a lifestyle of drug usage and drug selling. It is not a pretty sight, and it is all directly caused by our failed and hopeless policy of Drug Prohibition.
Yes, once we finally came to our senses and repealed Alcohol Prohibition we were still left with problems of alcohol misuse, abuse and addiction. But at least we were no longer plagued with the Al Capones and their violence and corruption, as well as the medical problems presented by the lack of quality control for the “bathtub gin.”
What should be our plan instead? In my view, we should resume using the Criminal Justice System in the way it was designed: to hold people accountable for what they do, instead of what they put into their bodies. Along those lines, it makes as much sense to me to put that gifted actor Robert Downey, Jr. in jail for his cocaine addiction, and he certainly seems to have one, as it would to have put Betty Ford in jail for her alcohol addiction. It is the same thing; it is a medical problem. But if Robert Downey, Jr., Betty Ford or you or I drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of any of these mind-altering drugs, that will still be an offense. Why is that? Because now those people would by their actions be putting the safety of other people at risk. When we finally are able to make that distinction in our approach, we will begin to make real progress in this area.
So what action should we take now? The first thing to do is for our President to appoint a blue ribbon commission to investigate the possibility of change – as publicly as possible. Then in my view the first substantive action we should take is to treat marijuana like alcohol. What would happen if we were to do that? Three things, and all of them positive. First, we taxpayers in California would literally save about a billion dollars every year that we now spend in a futile effort to eradicate marijuana, and to prosecute and incarcerate non-violent marijuana users. Secondly, we could tax the stuff, and raise about one and a half billion dollars every year for the state coffers. So those two things alone would change the budget deficit in California by about 2 ½ billion dollars every year. And that is money that we should use for drug education and drug treatment, which will result in decreased problem usage of all drugs. Or we could use the money to help finance health care for the uninsured people in our state and country. But the third thing would be more important than the first two combined, because this we would be making marijuana less available for our children than it is today, as we have already discussed. So what is not to like?
Eighteenth-century English jurist William Blackstone said that “The law is the embodiment of the moral sentiment of the people,” and I certainly agree with him. But just because we change our approach to this serious problem does not at all mean we condone drug abuse, and our children will understand that concept. There are better ways of accomplishing our goals of reducing drug abuse and all of the crime, misery and corruption that accompany it. In fact, we will discuss some of the programs that are actually working in other countries around the world in this column next week. So stay tuned.
In the meantime, let us take off our muzzles, and give ourselves permission to discuss the subject of drug policy openly, fully and honestly. We have nowhere to go but forward!
James P. Gray is a Judge of the Superior Court in California, the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It – A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs (Temple University Press, 2001), has a blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com, and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net.