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Campbell Frederik B. - 23 gennaio 1990
To Control Drugs, Legalize
By Frederick B. Campbell

ABSTRACT: The author affirms that the drug legalization does not have to mean 'surrender'. Curing addicts of addiction is a medical problem, not a law enforcement one. Legalization would reduce the number of pushers.

(The New York Times, 23/1/90)

The idea of legalizing addictive drugs conjures up images of crack being sold like cigarettes at corner news stands or heroin like whisky at local bars. Such concepts have been quickly - and correctly - categorized as surrender to the devastation of drug use.

But legalization need not be anything like those frightening images. Indeed, a carefully controlled legalization could be the key element in a strategy to put drug pushers out of business.

Legalization would not mean that addictive drugs would be legally available to everyone.

The purpose of legalization would be to place better controls on access to such drugs. Addiction would be recognized as a disease or physical affliction. For people who have that disease, the substance would be legal.

Licensed clinics would be allowed to provide drugs to such addicts - and only to them - in the same way that many addictive prescription drugs now are legally provided to specific categories of patients. For nonaddicts, the substances would remain illegal in the same way that it now is criminal to sell or use prescription drugs without a prescription.

Legalization would not mean that pushers would be given free rein.

The basic strategy of controlled legalization would be to deprive pushers of their steady and most lucrative customers - namely, addicts. If the strategy could be executed successfully, there would be far fewer pushers, because the smaller market would not support so many.

At the same time, police and other law enforcement officials could concentrate on reducing availability to nonaddicts. (Curing addicts of addictions is a medical problem, not a law enforcement one).

Legalization would not have to work perfectly in order to be beneficial.

Even if some addicts continued to seek drugs from pushers rather than licensed clinics, controlled legalization could have great benefits if a large portion of addicts used clinics rather than pushers, the number of pushers would decline. There should be a similar reductions in the crime and violence of the pushers' underground economy. Moreover, in the long term, fewer pushers would mean fewer new users starting and, thus, ultimately fewer addicts.

Legalization would reduce drug-related problems, not increase them.

Opponents of legalization often emphasize emotionally laden tragedies, such as infants born of addicted mothers, often with severe physical and mental problems. These opponents seldom ask the relevant questions.

For example, are they likely to be more "crack babies" if addicts get their drugs from licensed clinics that would take all possible steps to insure that users do not became pregnant? Or is it likely that they will be more crack babies under the current system in which addicts get no advice or assistance with birth control?

Legalization would not condemn addicts to oblivion.

Controlled legalization would be the best way to insure that addicts get all possible assistance to help them get off drugs. It is unlikely that anyone can give up any addictive substance, whether it is cigarettes or alcohol or heroin or crack, unless he or she first decides to do so.

Until that time, however, addicts would be better off getting drugs from licensed clinics, in the safest possible form and under circumstances in which they would be encouraged to try to quit and helped to do so.

Legalization would not condone use of addictive drugs.

Controlled legislation would amount to a recognition that addiction is a disease, rather than a crime. Under the current system, in which addicts are regarded as criminals, the drug culture attracts people who are alienated by mainstream society. This is an especially severe problem among the inner city poor, but it also strikes suburban youth of the middle and upper classes. Many adolescents pass through rebellious stages in which petty criminality may seem desirable. Very few, however, aspire to be diseased.

Controlled legalization of addictive drugs would not be a panacea for America's epidemic. But it would offer the hope of putting drug pushers out of business.

It may be that this kind of controlled legalization would not work. But the policy debate should not be based on so many false assumptions. Legalization is not necessarily "surrender".

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