|A Wiser Course: Ending Drug Prohibition|
Joycelyn Elders, the United States Surgeon General, has suggested that a study be made of our current drug policies and perhaps a new drug policy adopted. Despite the Administration's rejection of her suggestion, public perception is that she may be right. Our government tried to prohibit alcohol consumption and found it did not work. As demonstrated in this report, drug prohibition is also a failure that causes more harm than the drug use it is purportedly intended to control. The obvious answer is that we must take the necessary steps towards a new approach to drug policy.
Several different alternatives to drug prohibition are being discussed. Federal District Judge Whitman Knapp suggests that Congress should repeal all federal laws banning drug sales or possession and permit states to devise alternatives to prohibition. This is the present approach to alcohol in the United States since the repeal of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act. Federal District Judge Jack Weinstein suggests "standing down" and making fewer arrests, having fewer prosecutions, and spending more money on treatment. M.A.R. Kleiman of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard suggests as a solution to the drug problem a "grudging toleration" allowing for sale of certain drugs through state-regulated stores, but the strategy would be to discourage consumption.
These and other alternatives to drug prohibition should be thoroughly considered so that our society may choose a new approach that will avoid the widespread evils caused by the current drug laws. Any alternative to drug prohibition should allow continued criminal sanctions against conduct affecting others (the most obvious example being operating a vehicle while under the influence).
It is the Committee's belief that a new approach to drug policy should leave state and local governments free to employ the full panoply of coercive penal sanctions when drug use is relevant to conduct affecting others. For instance, as mentioned above, operating any vehicle while under the influence of drugs is not tolerated and that should not change. Although in New York, voluntary intoxication remains relevant to negate specific intent, the Legislature may wish to restore individual liability in this area and make any intoxication that is voluntary irrelevant as to mitigation, on the theory that by this voluntary act the actor will be held responsible for the consequences of his conduct while under the influence. Such a sanction is hardly unreasonable, nor would it strike anyone as being unfair, especially if facilities to deal with cases of actual addiction were readily available.
Finally, any alternative to drug prohibition should not preclude state and local governments from addressing "quality of life" issues. Government should not be powerless to control persons who are obviously and publicly intoxicated. Through enforcement of the existing laws dealing with public behavior, or appropriate amendments to such laws to include specific conduct, government intervention would have greater effect and would be readily accepted as appropriate by the overwhelming majority of the population.
A Wiser Course: Ending Drug Prohibition
A Report of The Special Committee on Drugs and the Law
of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York
June 14, 1994
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