Take Control of the War on Drugs    

Fraser: Real drug war to be fought & won in our treatment centers

By Ronald Fraser, Ph.D.

Special to The Telegraph

When the U. S. Congress passed a $1.3 billion military drug-fighting assistance package for Colombia last summer, Sen. Paul Coverdell of Georgia said, "This is a landmark vote, striking the drug war at ground zero --- Colombia."

Actually, ground zero is not in Colombia at all, but right here in our own backyard. The sooner we learn this lesson, the better.

In Georgia alone, more than 12,000 persons were enrolled in non-alcohol drug treatment programs in October 1997. But for every person getting help to regain control of his or her lives, many others go untreated.

What Georgians need is more and better equipped drug treatment programs. Instead, what they get from Washington is a failed policy that emphasizes tough law enforcement and drug interdiction in faraway places like Colombia.

To make better use of federal tax funds, we need to replace our current national drug policy built in Washington with one based on common sense. When faced with important questions like, "How can we solve the drug problem in my hometown?" ordinary people use common sense to find answers. Washington policy makers, on the other hand, rely on the politics of expertise and twisted bureaucratic reasoning when faced with he same question.

Common sense corrects expertise

The tug of war between experts and ordinary people is not new, nor is it restricted to Washington. Take local schools, for example.

Experts --- trained teachers and administrators --- are hired to operate our school on a day-to-day basis. We know better than to trust the politics of expertise. Local school districts elect boards of ordinary citizens to keep an eye on the experts and ensure our kids receive the kind of education we want them to receive, not necessarily the kind the experts say they should have.

Here is how a drug control policy built on the politics of common sense would differ from the current policy built on the politics of expertise:

• The politics of expertise, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, promotes the bogus idea that drug supply lines from abroad can be cut. The politics of common sense says our drug problem will be resolved only by cutting demand for drugs here at home.

• According to the politics of expertise, imprisonment even for minor drug offenses makes sense and brings a sense of order to society. Common sense tell us harsh prison terms are not constructive and actually drive many first-time offenders deeper into criminal behavior.

• The politics of expertise says Washington is where the nation's drug control problem will be solved. Common sense tells us America's drug problem will be solved the old-fashioned way, one person at a time, in the hundreds of Georgia towns where drug users live.

Fight drug war on Main Street

The gap separating policy experts in Washington from the common-sense view along Main Street boils down to this: Do we spend our time, energy and public taxes playing robo-cop outside our nation's borders, or do we provide the information and treatment support citizens need to help themselves?

Once the demand for drugs on Main Street is cut off, the flow across our international borders will automatically cease. Two-thirds of this year's federal $18 billion drug control budget goes for border law enforcement and South American interdiction actions.

That leaves only $6 billion for expensive advertising campaigns and inadequately funded drug treatment programs here at homes. No wonder U.S. treatment programs accommodate only about one-half of the hard-core drug users.

The gap separating what individual American citizens need from what they are getting can be closed only if policy makers in Washington honestly admit the so-called war can be won only by building treatment centers here at home to help people reclaim their private lives, not by arming military units in South America.

Ronald Fraser writes on public policy issues for the DKT Liberty Project, a Washington-based nonprofit, civil liberties research organization.









Sunday, Jun. 21, 2009

Georgia gets a medical marijuana green light

By Ronald Fraser

Special to The Telegraph

At long last, policymakers in Washington have begun to draw a line between illicit drug use and the legitimate use of drugs as medicine. In March, President Obama’s attorney general announced the federal government will no longer prosecute medical marijuana clinics that operate in compliance with state laws. This means lawmakers in Atlanta are now free to decide — without interference from Washington — if marijuana will fill a medical niche in Georgia.

Thirteen states have already removed criminal penalties for the use of medical marijuana and actively regulate how, with a medical doctor’s recommendation, marijuana is made available for patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, severe pain, glaucoma, epilepsy and other chronic conditions. But until now, Washington has disregarded these state laws. Since California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, for example, federal agents have raided over 100 marijuana distribution centers there.

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The first step has been taken with Washington’s tacit acknowledgement that closing down state-regulated marijuana clinics is a misuse of taxpayers’ money and harmful to Americans coping with serious illnesses. Many thousands of ill people attest that smoking, vaporizing or orally ingesting marijuana relieves pain, nausea and other symptoms far more effectively than Marinol, a pharmaceutically available synthetic version of marijuana.

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According to the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based advocate for legalizing medical marijuana, Georgia already has a limited medical marijuana law on the books. Under this statute, the state is authorized to distribute marijuana received from the federal government to a small number of patients taking part in research programs.

Washington’s new medical marijuana policy gives Georgia the freedom to exercise its historic roll as the primary watchdog for the health and welfare of its citizens. Whether or not Georgia patients will be given greater access to medical marijuana is now up to the state Legislature.

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Marijuana is not the only targeted medical drug. In all 50 states federal raids can still close down pain clinics and arrest pain management physicians who prescribe large doses of opioids, highly effective, legal painkillers made from opium or synthetics with the properties of opiate narcotics.

Dr. Joel Hochman, director of the National Foundation for the Treatment of Pain in Houston, Texas, says the drug-war hysteria is making it too risky for many doctors to accept patients in chronic pain and that, with help from the media, federal raids on so-called “pill mills” paint a false picture that the streets are awash in drugs carelessly handed out by unprincipled doctors. Instead, he claims, these clinics provide last-resort care to largely uninsured or under-insured blue-collar and other limited-income workers, many with work-related injuries, who can only afford a five-minute visit at high volume, low-cost, low-profit clinics.

What to do? “End opiophobia and fantasy-driven public policies,” says Hochman. “Confront the fact that law enforcement agencies and prisons are all strung out on the drug prohibition laws and need to be brought back to reality.”

Here is a rare opportunity for elected officials in Georgia and in Washington to take a long hard look at how harsh drug laws are undermining medical care in America. For the millions of people desperately coping with chronic ailments, let’s not waste it.

Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public policy issues for the DKT Liberty Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization. Write him at fraserr@erols.com.


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