Declare Peace in the War on Drugs

Bill Neinast

The first and last pages of Friday’s Banner-Press had two connected articles.  The connection, however, may have been missed by some readers.

The Page One article was a report of the 25 felony indictments returned by the 21st District Grand Jury.  The only indictments listed were the 22 in which the defendant had been arrested.  Of those 22, ten were for the possession of a controlled substance.  Of those ten, eight were indictments for possessing less than a gram of a controlled substance (it takes 28.34 grams of cocaine to make one ounce).  The other two were for possessing 4-200 grams of a controlled substance.  Three of the other indictments were for driving while intoxicated, with no indication of the source of the intoxication as alcohol or drugs.

Think about that for a moment.  Anyone  can walk out of a store with three or four cases of beer or a couple of gallons of whiskey, and police authorities would not raise an eye brow.  Get caught with a teeny weeny bit of cocaine, however, and you are rushed off to jail and before grand and petit juries.

Now consider the Banner story on the last page.  That was Dave McNeely’s weekly column on statewide political affairs.  The headline was “Taxpayers are losers in the war on drugs.”

McNeely had served on a grand jury for three months in 2012 and believes, “Penalties for minor drug crimes were unduly punitive, hurt families, exposed non-violent lawbreakers to violent ones, made it much tougher to get jobs when prisoners were released, and cost taxpayers a bunch….

“The tough-on-drugs attitude since the 1980s mostly serves to keep drug prices high.  That can attract dropouts to sell drugs.  It’s more lucrative than any other job they can get--at least until they’re caught.”

Let me add a personal note here.  Several years ago District Judge John Placke appointed me to represent a young man being arraigned in his court on a drug charge.  This man had dropped out of high school, enlisted in the Navy, got an Honorable Discharge, came home, earned his GED certificate, and was working at Bealls Department store as a management trainee.  He was a likeable, “Mr. Personality Plus.”

Although I urged him to plead Not Guilty with a defense of entrapment, he believed that he did not stand a chance of an acquittal before a “jury of whites.”  He insisted on pleading guilty under an agreement to avoid confinement.

A month or so after his trial, I began to get collect telephone calls from him in Houston.  His problem was that, because of his felony drug conviction, he could not find employment, even in fast food restaurants 

After several of these calls, he called collect one more time.  He had gotten in with a crowd of parolees whose supervision and control were much less than his probation.  They convinced him that, as this was the time of  the revolving doors at the overcrowded prisons, he could go to prison, stand on his head for three months, and be back out on parole rather than on probation.  

At his request, I took him back before Judge Placke who granted his request to serve his prison time. 

I have not heard from him since, but I know that this was a bright young man with a promising future who was ruined by a piddling amount of drugs.  

So back to the McNeely article.  He notes that it costs taxpayers $51.00 a day to keep a person in prison and those dollars are then not available to “be spent on roads, infrastructure, schools, and all the other priorities that the state needs.”

So here’s the perspective.

Beer and wine are ancient alcoholic drinks.  They were created millennia ago as substitutes for frequently contaminated drinking water sources.  As such, they were beneficial health products.

There is no longer a need for such water substitutes in developed countries, and beer and wine are now simply recreational substances.  Just like drugs.

Both alcohol and drugs are consumed for recreational purposes.  Both are intoxicating and addictive.  Alcohol and drugs can kill users who abuse the product and also kill innocent bystanders when the user becomes intoxicated and gets behind the wheel of an automobile or other weapon.

Drugs can ruin careers, as it did for my client mentioned above.  Alcohol can ruin careers as it may have done for the Texas A&M football quarterback to be who was found passed out drunk in front of a bar in College Station last weekend.    

The sale of alcohol results in millions of dollars in tax revenue for local governments.  Conversely, trying to prohibit the use of drugs costs the government billions of dollars of tax revenue.

Prohibition in the 1930s taught us that trying to keep individuals from addictive behavior spawns criminal gangs who prosper by manufacturing and marketing the illegal substances craved by the addicted. These lessons are being replayed today.  The drug kings of the cartels south of the border are rolling in billions of dollars and tankers of blood shed by those who interfere with their drug running.

Decriminalizing drugs could have the same beneficial effects as ending prohibition.  Drug cartels would fold.  There would be no drug pushers trying to get individuals hooked on their products.  The government could collect taxes on drugs rather than spend taxes on battles that cannot be won, and lives like that of my client would not be ruined.

Let’s try it.  


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