Criminalization does not deter drug use. Globally each year millions of people receive criminal records for drug possession with the young, Black and poor most actively targeted. Besides the many who end up in prison it impacts severely on employment and education. (www.release.org.uk)
Drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are everywhere in our society. Children see and know when adults are using and adults see and know when children are using. Everyone knows what is going on, everyone just hopes that they don't get caught.
We spend millions of dollars on law enforcement, prisons, drug treatment courts and rehabilitation facilities and we create slogans and campaigns to stop drunk drivers. One set of politicians run on tough on drug crime platforms and zero tolerance programs while others run to legalize marijuana and demand treatment for all. Yet, all of the chatter about programs and legislation is because somebody will get caught using and we don't know what to do about it.
Our leaders were no different than our youth of today, but somehow they made it through. Maybe their use was covered up, maybe they found a mentor to guide them, or a physician to help them or maybe they just walked away from their young reckless behavior. They may have smoked pot or used drugs, drove under the influence or even shared drugs with others but our leaders did not get caught, therefore they did not end up in the revolving door of the criminal justice system.
Most young people experiment with alcohol and drugs and most do not become addicted. Yet they all have the fear of getting caught. Some even take chances that end up leading to overdose and death. With the current laws and policies in place, families are broken apart when an individual gets arrested with illegal drugs or alcohol. Most families use alcohol responsibly yet when it becomes a problem, families hide it. No one wants to get discovered drinking too much or using drugs or calling the police. They want their image to stay clean and stable, especially if they have something to lose. And...we all have something to lose.
We have yet to have a serious agenda free adult discussion about alcohol and drug use in this country. Instead, we pound out solutions like high school student council members using catch phrases and adjunct committees. Pressure from anti-drug and alcohol groups pressure law makers to prosecute harshly and convict believing that incarceration will end the problem; until the problem comes into their own homes. This is serious stuff. There are people in prisons and drug courts for punitive reasons, there are people with addiction who need substance abuse treatment that cannot get care, there are people that are homeless because of alcohol and drug use and there are families that have lost loved ones. It is quite obvious what we are doing is not working.
What we can do is stop arguing and free up the political constraints on educated researchers so they can guide us. We need money for unbiased research to understand all illegal drugs and their impact on the body and brain. We need valid research on addiction and why some people can just walk away on their own and others cannot. We need research to be shared to re-educate physicians, hospitals and EMT's about alcohol and drug use and we need holistic, pharmaceutical and technological advances to keep people safe. Meanwhile, we should look to decriminalize nonviolent personal drug and alcohol use. Let those that need treatment participate in deciding their own treatment as with any other health concern. Release those that are imprisoned, on probation and parole for non-violent and victimless drug and alcohol violations so that they may reestablish their lives.
We are just beginning to understand the complexity of drug and alcohol use. We need to further our research on the benefits, the health concerns, treatment and technical advances that will solve our drug and alcohol issues. We have organizations that are angry at anyone using drugs and alcohol and want justice at all cost for future victims. Other organizations are frantic to find solutions and are looking for quick fixes because they feel that doing something is better than nothing. But the first line of doctoring is to do no harm. We are doing harm.
We are criminalizing individuals, creating legal propositions for forced mandated medical care that may be ineffective and may be unwarranted; and we are destroying families and lives. We have policies that were put in place by people who didn't get caught while experimenting with drugs and alcohol in their youth and now they are listening to what is the political flavor of the month. It is by chance that they are the ones making policy instead of sitting in prison, in a hospital bed or on the street. They are even on TV talk shows laughing and judging. They are the lucky ones, they didn't get caught: but their children or grandchildren might. Then it will be a serious issue to be caught up in the criminal justice system.
Barack Obama -Pot had helped, and booze: maybe a little blow when you could afford it....I inhaled frequently. That was the point.
George W. Bush - I wouldn't answer the marijuana questions: you know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried.
Bill Clinton - I experimented with marijuana one time or two and didn't like it. I didn't inhale.
Sarah Palin- I can't claim a Bill Clinton and say that I never inhaled.
Rick Santorum- Well, yeah, I admitted you know, back when I was running for the Senate, that when I was in college that I smoked pot.
Al Gore -When I was young, I did things that young people do. When I grew up I put away childish things.
Gary Johnson - Rather than using painkillers, which I used on occasion before, I did smoke pot.
Newt Gingrich - That was a sign we were alive and in graduate school in that era.
John Edwards - Yes.
Michael Bloomberg - You bet I did and I enjoyed it.
David A. Peterson - More Americans have tried a lot more during that period of time and gone on to lead responsible lives.
Mitch Daniels - I had used marijuana and I was fined for that and that was appropriate.
Arnold Schwarzenegger - Yes, grass and hash, no hard drugs. But the point is that I do what I feel like doing.