|Sent on:||Friday, December 20, 2013 2:31 PM|
See LEAP's Howard Rahtz article "Legal pot makes sense" in today's Cincinnati Enquirer Opinion below or at
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Howard Rahtz is a retired Cincinnati Police captain who lives in College Hill. He is a member of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and has worked in both drug treatment and law enforcement. He is the author of “Drugs, Crime and Violence: From Trafficking to Treatment.”
Over the past few months, The Enquirer has performed an important service in alerting the community about the growing heroin addiction problem. Among other things, The Enquirer has pointed out the increasing risk posed to first responders and citizens by dirty needles, the lack of treatment beds for addicted people and the fact that, in Ohio, more people now die from drug overdoses than in auto accidents. It has been noted that heroin is cheaper, more plentiful and of a higher purity than in recent times.
In fact, the heroin problem facing us is Exhibit A of the failure of drug prohibition. Concern over the heroin problem was the major impetus leading to President Richard Nixon declaring the war on drugs in 1971. Despite the outlay of over a trillion dollars since 1970, thousands killed in drug-related violence and the imprisonment of Americans at a rate higher than any other country in the world, the heroin problem is significantly worse today than it was in 1970. When I worked in a methadone program in 1972, the purity rate for heroin was about 3 percent. Today the purity rate for street heroin is estimated at 40 percent.
With growing agreement that the war on drugs has been a failure, the question is what do we do now? Many of the suggestions outlined in The Enquirer series should be implemented. But unfortunately, real change will require more drastic action.
In discussing a new direction, we can first agree that use of all drugs, including tobacco and alcohol, carries risks. Human beings, despite the risks, have consumed these substances for thousands of years. They will continue to do so. Our challenge is to find a policy that is directed more by rationality and results and less from a knee-jerk impulse to lock them all up.
The second important point widely agreed on is the need for additional treatment resources. Addicts and their families looking for help in our area are more likely to be put on a waiting list than into a program. Let’s recognize every addict is a high-volume customer for the drug cartels. Treatment takes these customers and their revenue away from the drug traffickers. When an addict is turned away because treatment is not available, we push them back into the arms of the cartels.
Although nearly everyone agrees on the need for more treatment, finding the money is a difficult proposition. Governments at all levels are strapped for resources, and there is a long list of priorities that compete for available funds. An earmarked revenue source dedicated to prevention and treatment programs makes the most sense. Where to find that revenue is the question.
Legalizing marijuana is the first, most logical step that can be taken.
For those now gasping, take a deep breath and consider the fact that prohibition has been totally ineffective in keeping Americans from using drugs. Take a look at pot, our most used illegal drug. Despite some of the most punitive penalties in the world, American use of pot is second only to our northern neighbor Canada. High school students in our country use marijuana at a nearly 50 percent higher rate than those in Holland, where marijuana is consumed legally in coffee shops. Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana, and observers are reporting that the sky in those two states has yet to fall. Medical marijuana is legal in 17 other states and despite the shrill warnings of prohibitionists, a recent study finds teen pot use in those states DID NOT increase following medical marijuana approval.
How much money would legal pot generate? Economist Jeffery Miron estimates that if pot were taxed in the same fashion as other businesses, it would generate about $15 billion a year, significant money even in Washington, D.C. A significant portion of that money should be earmarked to support treatment programs so those addicted could find help paid for by legalized marijuana.
Legalization of marijuana not only generates dollars but would provide significant savings in criminal justice costs. Nearly three-quarters of a million people are arrested each year in the U.S. for pot possession. The cost to arrest and process these individuals is significant and steals scarce resources that could be directed to other priorities. One example – Ohio has more than 2,000 untested rape kits sitting in storage. Shifting funds from marijuana enforcement to processing that backlog would appear to be an easy decision.
Of all the arguments over legalizing marijuana, the most persuasive is simple fairness. The hypocrisy of marijuana prohibition is staggering. Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton both smoked pot.
These two head a long list of politicians, Supreme Court justices and celebrities whose pot use is typically treated in a joking fashion, something most unfunny to ordinary citizens with a criminal record for engaging in the same behavior. ¦