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GINGRICH'S TOUGH RHETORIC MISSES MARK ON DRUG USEBy Nick Gillespie, Daily News, 10/23/95
Under legislation that he has promised to "personally" introduce, dealers importing "commercial quantities" of drugs would be sentenced to death; they would also be limited to one judicial appeal. Users would be sentenced to two days of public service a week for a year (four days per week for second-time offenders).
Such overheated rhetoric and draconian penalties obscure a number of facts relevant to revising the national drug policy.
For starters, dealers and users already face severe sanctions. Indeed, roughly 60 per- cent of all federal prisoners and 20 percent of all state inmates are serving time for drug-related crimes. And drug offenders, thanks to a plethora of mandatory- minimum laws, are precisely the sort of prisoners who end up doing hard time.
In 1992, the average federal drug sentence length was 82 months, up from 47 months in 1980.
Second, the demand for "illicit" - that is, illegal - drugs seems to exist independent of legal prohibition (which the speaker, as no stranger to American history, must recognize is largely responsible for the violence associated with drug dealing). Despite massive interdiction efforts, drugs remain readily available to most people who want them.
Still, over the past 20 years or so, drug use has pretty much declined across the board, with the major downward spike coming before the Reagan-era war on drugs was mobilized.
As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports in the 1995 edition of its National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: "The central finding... is the continued overall decline in the use of illicit drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.... This broad ebbing of substance use has been in progress since the late 1970s-early 1980s, steadily reversing the rising tides recorded in earlier data."
The fact that demand for both legal and illegal drugs has declined suggests that individuals make use decisions quite apart from the government's view on the matter.
And indeed, on some level Gingrich recognizes the moral and pragmatic limits of any possible governmental war on drugs. Even as he pushes for an escalation of the conflict in terms of cops deployed, dollars spent and civil liberties curtailed, he cites the need to win the hearts and minds of combatants.
"Victorian England," says Gingrich, "changed the whole momentum of their society. They didn't do it through a new bureaucracy; they did it by re-establishing values, by moral leadership, and by being willing to look at people in the face and say, `You should be ashamed when you get drunk in public. You ought to be ashamed if you're a drug addict.' ... I think moral force matters."
Gingrich's view of 19th century England is debatable - as is his consistent characterization of drug users as children or addicts. But it's clear that this second course of action is preferable in a country that has supposedly repudiated "bigger government and bureaucracies."
After all, as the speaker puts it, you should be able to decide "how you should spend your money" and by extension, how you chose to live your life.
Nick Gillespie is assistant editor of Reason, a political and social affairs magazine published by the Reason Foundation.
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
Major Studies of Drug and Drug Policy
Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding - The Report of the US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse
Licit and Illicit Drugs
Short History of the Marijuana Laws
The Drug Hang-Up
Congressional Transcripts of the Hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937
Frequently Asked Questions About Drugs
Basic Facts About the Drug War
Charts and Graphs about Drugs
Information on Alcohol
Guide to Heroin - Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin
LSD, Mescaline, and Psychedelics
Drugs and Driving
Children and Drugs
Drug Abuse Treatment Resource List
American Society for Action on Pain
Let Us Pay Taxes
Marijuana Business News
Reefer Madness Collection
Medical Marijuana Throughout History
Drug Legalization Debate
Legal History of American Marijuana Prohibition
Marijuana, the First 12,000 Years
DEA Ruling on Medical Marijuana
Legal References on Drugs
GAO Documents on Drugs
Response to the Drug Enforcement Agency
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