to the Editor
(this letter was published in his entirety on 09/25/2002 in the Mountain Democrat, a newspaper in Placerville, CA)
Our work at DEA to prevent drug abuse in this country is more important than ever before. This year President Bush released one of the most comprehensive drug plans in our nation's history. He set clear priorities and goals to determine that funds will continue to yield results-a 10% reduction in drug use within 2 years and a 25% reduction within 5 years.
There are some who say that we should not continue the fight against drugs. They suggest that if we simply legalize drugs, then many of the problems that come with drugs will simply fade away. They could not be more wrong. American drug policy is working. Overall drug use in the United States is down 50% since the late 1970s. That is 9.3 million people fewer using illegal drugs. Cocaine use in this country has dropped by an astounding 75% during the last 15 years. Currently, less than 5% of the population uses illegal drugs of any kind. That's 14 million regular users of all illegal drugs compared to 65 million tobacco users and over 100 million alcohol users.
The fight against drugs has become even more important since our nation went to war against terrorists.
The money that pays for the violent acts of terrorists often comes from drug trafficking. About half of the terrorist organizations identified by the Department of State are supported by the narcotics trade, including the Al Queda network in Afghanistan, and the violent FARC organization and paramilitary groups in Colombia. Drug and money laundering cases that fall under the jurisdiction of the DEA have become even more important as they help identify and disable terrorist organizations.
There is a myth that the DEA's efforts are wasted in pursuit of drug users or low-level dealers. The DEA isn't targeting users but traffickers-the criminal organizations that distribute drugs in the streets and neighborhoods throughout America. Local law enforcement deals with users, but it's important to point out that only 5% of people in U.S. federal prisons for drug offenses are there on possession convictions. First-time drug offenders, even sellers, typically do not go to prison. The truth is somebody has to work pretty darn hard to go to prison for drug use in this country.
Given the proven links between drug abuse and other social problems such as violence and child abuse and neglect, legalization of drugs and the corresponding rise in use would overwhelm our criminal justice system and strain our already over burdened social welfare system.
A report on Drug Arrests by the California Criminal Justice Statistics Center, states that from 1997 to 1999 (last year for which statistics are available) juvenile drug arrests decreased 12.2 percent. For the same period, adult drug arrests decreased 8.5 percent. The more recent PRIDE Survey states that teen drug use has fallen to the lowest level in years. The same study found that students whose teachers did not warn them away from drugs were twice as likely to use illicit substances.
What these two studies are saying is: all the efforts at the local, state and federal levels are resulting in a better informed population that is choosing not to use drugs.
The myth that the war on drugs is being lost is now exposed. The reality is our nation's anti-drug effort is making progess. Americans need to know that, and young people need to know their government believes drug use is not just an alternative lifestyle, but a serious problem for them and for society. In a legalization scenario, there will be more arrests for serious crimes because arrests are more often than not the result of altered, and often violent, behavior that is caused by mind-altering drug use than by a need to support a drug habit.
The statistics show that fewer people are being arrested for drug offenses because more people are choosing to stay drug free. What the statistics do not show is the social dividend we gain as a society that consumes fewer drugs. Less money would be spent on rehab programs; fewer jails would be needed since sober individuals engage in less antisocial behavior. Lost productivity due to drug usage would be minimized or eliminated. And most important, fewer Americans would be enslaved by powerfully addicting and life-destroying drugs.
Of the many social costs associated with drug use, the first malady that comes to mind is addiction, which robs individuals of a fruitful life. The second one, which is the result of addiction, is the physiological effects that destroys health and kills.
Drug legalization is an unworkable and uncompassionate suggestion to remedy a complex problem. It would lead to higher crime rates and more suffering. And it would send a message that we know is wrong: that illicit drugs are not dangerous. They are.
Instead we need a balanced approach to fighting drugs-one that incorporates education, enforcement, and treatment. We need to reduce the demand for drugs and cut off the supply. Legalizing drugs is not the answer, it is simply a surrender. It is writing off those still in the grip of addiction and despair. Isn't every life worth fighting for?
Stephen C. Delgado