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Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010

Banning Non-Pot

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It’s taken decades for a state to find the political courage to put legalization of the widely used and relatively innocuous drug marijuana on the ballot.

Lest anyone think Wisconsin is ready to jump onto some sort of bandwagon edging toward rationality, local politicians have been falling all over each other recently to expand laws against pot to include non-pot.

It seems the most fiendish villains preying on drug users today are shopkeepers who openly market packages of leafy herbs that are not pot.

Milwaukee Alderman Robert Donovan, drawn like a moth to the light of television news cameras, declares: “Individuals who sell this garbage, who make money off this poison, ought to be hung.”

What in the world is Donovan talking about that should prompt Wisconsin to consider reinstating lynching after abolishing the death penalty 157 years ago?

There are anecdotal reports that some of the chemicals in herbs that are not pot cause increased heart rates, elevated blood pressure, vomiting, shakiness and extreme anxiety.

Oh, damn those purveyors of poison! Capital punishment is too good for someone who peddles something that could make people feel woozy.

None of the local ordinances against non-pot yet include putting sellers to death. The fines in the Milwaukee ordinance range from $100 to $500 for sale or possession. The Waukesha ordinance trumps Milwaukee by increasing fines up to $1,000.

But the scramble by posturing politicians to outlaw something about which they know little or nothing is a perfect illustration of how the War on Drugs—including physically damaging, addictive hard drugs—gets everything exactly wrong.

Let’s say, hypothetically, someone had serious concerns about health problems resulting from someone smoking non-pot—although human health would not seem to be high on the agenda of anyone who advocates killing other human beings to solve a problem.

The worst thing to do would be to outlaw the stuff. That immediately takes non-pot off the shelves of small shops where authorities can purchase it openly and test it for harmful ingredients. If non-pot is found to harm someone, producers and sellers could be held legally liable.

Outlawing non-pot immediately moves all sales underground and puts quality control in the hands of criminals. And if you’re going to have to go to criminals to purchase your non-pot, why settle for non?

Serious, Intelligent Approach

Actually, the most intelligent approach I’ve heard for dealing with the harm that drug addiction causes to individuals and communities came from a cop.

Jack Cole worked for the New Jersey State Police for 26 years, 14 as an undercover narcotics officer. Cole became the first executive director of an organization of former and current law enforcement officials fighting not only the harm caused by drugs but also the harm caused by the criminalization of drugs.

I met Cole when I broadcast some looking-back-on-Katrina radio shows from New Orleans in 2007. He was in town to talk about Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), which has grown to 30,000 police officers, prosecutors, judges, prison wardens and FBI and DEA agents.

The long-range goal of LEAP is the legalization and regulated selling of all drugs now designated as illegal. Don’t dismiss the idea as crazy talk by cops who have spent too much time in their own evidence rooms.

First you should consider Cole’s long litany of benefits that would immediately flow to all of us from ending drug prohibition:

Deaths from drug overdose would drop immediately. Overdose deaths are caused by wild variations in purity of drugs sold on the street. Drugs sold legally could be regulated for safety and quality instead of depending upon the ethics of criminals.

No individuals would be selling drugs on the streets in any neighborhood. There wouldn’t be any profit in it.

There would be no drug dealers shooting other drug dealers. Miller and Bud don’t get into shooting wars over who’s going to supply local taverns. That kind of criminal violence flourished—guess when?—during alcohol’s Prohibition era.

That’s just the beginning. Virtually all the community violence associated with the drug trade is caused by our decision to turn the distribution of drugs over to criminals. Ending prohibition would end an enormous number of homicides in every city, including those of innocent children caught in the crossfire.

And, oh yeah, public health would improve. Treating addiction of everyone as a health problem (as it now is for the wealthy) rather than a crime (as it now is for the poor) would open up treatment for everybody.

The last public figure in Milwaukee with the guts to speak out about the obvious public benefits of drug legalization was Howard Fuller, before school choice, as director of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services in the late ’80s.

Today’s so-called political leaders don’t even have the courage to resist expanding prohibition to include such absurd substances as non-pot.

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