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Jewish World Review Oct. 13, 1999 /3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Don Feder

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Econophone

New Mexico gov urges responsible drug use

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- SPEAKING AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY last week, New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson invoked the biggest lie of the drug-legalization movement: The drug war is a multi-billion dollar failure.

Johnson is the first governor to call for unconditional surrender -- the legalization of cocaine and heroin, as well as marijuana. By his own admission, he smoked pot regularly as a student, and found the experience delightful and salutary.

"I hate to say it, but the majority of people who use drugs use them responsibly," the Republican told a student audience. Clearly, Johnson hasn't spent much time in prisons, rehab centers, homeless shelters, emergency rooms or the seedier sections of our inner-cities.

The drug war a failure? All of our policy initiatives should be such a flop.

According to the "The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators," between 1979 and 1997, there was a 60 percent decline in marijuana use nationally. From 1985 to 1997, cocaine use decreased 77 percent.

When confronted with such statistics, legalizers invariably reply that this progress is due exclusively to education. Enforcement plays no part. Really, then why is teen smoking on the rise, despite incessant efforts at alerting youth to the dangers of tobacco?

It is no coincidence that crime rates are now at their lowest level since 1973. Between 1990 and 1997, the total crime rate in the United States fell 15.4 percent. Violent crimes are down 17 percent.

Attack drugs and you attack crime. In a 1997 survey of state-prison inmates, 57 percent reported using drugs in the month before their offense.

Here are a few more statistics. A 1997 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed non-users who live in households with those who use drugs are 11 times more likely to die violently than those in drug-free homes.

In Wayne Co., Mich., 75 percent of all child-abuse cases are attributed to drugs. Cocaine is responsible for 20 percent of highway fatalities in New York state. In 1995, there were 931,000 drug-related emergency-room admissions.

Legalize drugs and all of the above will be multiplied by some unknown factor. Responsible drug use is as much of an oxymoron as responsible road rage.

You don't have to be Barry McCaffrey, the nation's drug czar, to know that drugs loosen inhibitions and inhibit thinking. They make some people lazy and others crazy. Crack stimulates violence and paranoia. Heroin junkies have a hard time holding down jobs. Pot heads tend to be listless and unmotivated.

I don't know anyone in his right mind who believes that legalization will result in a decline of consumption. If some people are willing to risk substantial penalties to puff, snort or shoot up, imagine how many more will enter the drug scene when cheaper narcotics can be indulged risk-free. Health-care costs, insurance premiums, crime rates, domestic violence, joblessness -- all would soar. The war on drugs is expensive -- and worth every penny.

Ask the father of a child who's died from an overdose. Ask the mother who's seen her once-promising student drop out and turn to petty theft or prostitution.

Ask the man who has struggled with his addiction for decades, swinging between sobriety and binges. Ask the coke baby in hell for its mother's habit. Ask the adorable 3-year old who's left alone in a filthy apartment for days on end by its addict mother or beaten to death by her doper boyfriend.

Or, you could pose that question to Robert Downey Jr. during a visit to the Los Angeles County Jail. In August, the star of "Chaplin" and "Restoration" was sentenced to three years.

His wealth and fame notwithstanding, Downey couldn't use drugs "responsibly." In June, 1996, the star was stopped for speeding. Inside his pickup truck, police found crack cocaine, heroin and a pistol. Firearms frequently facilitate responsible drug use.

After his '96 arrest, the actor broke into a neighbor's home and fell asleep on a child's bed. Following that bizarre episode, there were repeated violations of probation. At his sentencing, Downey told Municipal Judge Lawrence Mira, "It's like I have a shotgun in my mouth, and I got my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal."

If Johnson and other legalizers have their way, many more Americans will develop that singular taste, and the rest of us will get to clean up the brain matter.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder can be reached by clicking here.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate