A novel solution to the drug problem

  • Rich Wandschneider

 

A cop friend told me not long ago that he had changed his mind completely on the idea of legalizing drugs. His current take: "Legalize everything but meth and hang the meth-pushers" -- or something close to that.

We were talking about a kid we both had known back in the day, a kid who had had some problems, but skated along at the edge of the law, made it through school and even had some jobs. Then he got hooked on methamphetamine. He was in prison at the time.

Whether legal or illegal, drugs alter the way people think and the way they behave, my friend said. Meth, however, does something worse: It completely transforms its users into something else, loosening whatever anchors of conscience and humanity they have.

"Regulate drugs as legal products, tax them, make them unattractive for criminals, and let us go after the bad guys running the meth business," he said. All these other illegal drugs -- from pot to heroin -- create huge profit centers, and the law enforcement community spends a great deal of time and energy chasing the criminals who exploit them, leaving no time for pursuing meth dealers. Witness two big marijuana-growing busts in Wallowa County last summer and the local and state effort that went into the busts.

The illegal status of pot makes criminals out of ordinary people who think drug laws are stupid and should be ignored, if not exploited. Remember Prohibition, where backyard stills, wineries and breweries made criminals of many rural people, and big-time criminals made fortunes running alcohol across the borders of Canada and Mexico.

When I suggested that the big mountain to climb in legalizing drugs (except for meth) would be the alcohol and tobacco lobbies, my friend the policeman agreed.

And don't forget the "prison lobby," another friend, Ben Butzein, added later. Ben was a drug user in the 1960s, and spent time in prison for it. On his release, he hooked up with an outfit in Portland, Ore., called "Better People," which helps ex-cons get their lives back together. Ben was a fine example: He got his own life together, became a fine cabinetmaker and sometime poet, and was a part-time resident of Wallowa County in eastern Oregon.

He also fought for prison reform and for the rehabilitation of prisoners, a stance that had him battling the prison lobby. I wish I had Ben to talk to -- he passed away a few years ago -- or even one of the letters he wrote to the Oregonian. But I remember him talking and writing passionately about the prison builders and the corporate owners and their lobbies -- private prisons were then a fast-growing industry -- and how they influenced drug and prison reform.

Maybe the prison lobby has quieted down, but I doubt it. Alcohol and tobacco industries and their lobbies must still have their thumbs in any debate about legalizing currently illegal drugs. And I doubt that the associations of prison guards and the attorneys and wardens who make a living making sure that our country incarcerates more of its citizens than any other "developed" country in the world, are staying quiet.  I imagine that the drug cartels in Mexico would also not favor legalizing any of the drugs they sell so well in our country. Ditto for the builders of border fences and surveillance systems; isn't it amazing that fences on the Canadian border have been proposed?

Meanwhile, we continue to smoke and drink legally, and then we deal with the health and crime problems these drugs generate. We continue to make normal folks into criminals over drugs that could be regulated and taxed and dealt with as we deal with alcohol. We continue to spend law enforcement time and energy chasing after the bad guys attracted to the business -- the heirs to the Prohibition era's Capones. And we spend more and more money on a war on drugs that we cannot win.

We also continue to watch as weapons and drugs are shipped across our southern border, as gangster wars erupt among the cartels and the dead and dying operatives who keep border violence raging across Mexico. No vacationing now in Acapulco!

And the meth guys? They are still out there, cooking their poisons in small towns and large, running their stuff across state and national boundaries, fueling crimes from theft to murder, filling prisons and treatment programs, and giving the overburdened law enforcement community more than full-time employment.

Rich Wandschneider is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Joseph, Oregon.

High Country News Classifieds
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!