Michelle Teheux: War on drugs war was lost long ago

Michelle Teheux

What do Peoria, Ill., and Mexico have in common?

A whole heap of violence in both places is connected to the drug war, which we are losing worse than we’ve ever lost any war before.

The phrase “war on drugs” has never been so apt. It used to be just a turn of speech, but make no mistake, it is today a very real war with a high body count.

Peoria has counted 17 homicides this year as of this writing, and 89 shootings, according to media reports. It’s impossible to pin down exactly how many of those were drug-related, but it’s certainly fair to say that drugs and the gangs that sell them have played a role in many of these shootings.

In Mexico, according to The Associated Press, 28,000 people have been killed in drug violence since late 2006.

Many people living in pleasant neighborhoods like to feel they are insulated from the drug trade, but that’s rot. Pay attention to arrest records - it affects all of us.

The solution would seem to be to impose severe penalties for drug use and to throw billions of dollars at law enforcement to just stamp out this drug problem once and for all. Right?

Well, we tried that, and it worked even less well than Prohibition worked against alcohol use.

It’s time to try something new.

First, let’s decriminalize marijuana and let people grow their own. That will take a good deal of the profit out of it. Let people who want to use this drug use it without contributing to the finances of bloody gangs.

Stop treating marijuana as if it were the same as meth or crack or heroin. It just isn’t, and anybody who insists it is ought to just be ignored. It’s that kind of backward thinking that has helped get us into the mess we’re in now.

The second thing we should do is address the issue of harder drugs by opening far more substance abuse treatment centers.

Those caught for the first time with a small amount of hard drugs could get outpatient treatment. Anyone arrested subsequently, or those caught with larger amounts, would get sentenced to long-term inpatient treatment. Yes, I know that’s expensive. But the cost of letting these folks ruin our society is so much higher.

I’m not so naive as to think a stint in a drug treatment facility is going to cure every drug user. But it will surely work better than just locking them up for a while.

We all pay the price one way or another. Right now we are paying an enormous cost for drug crimes in the form of taxes to pay for police, courts, jails and prisons, not to mention the human costs of broken families and ruined lives.

All this, and we don’t seem to be making a dent.

You don’t have to be a drug user or soft on crime to come to the conclusion that what we’re doing just isn’t working. You just have to open your eyes.

What we need is a major shift in thinking, one that will allow us to spend millions of dollars on drug treatment so that we can later save millions on prisons. One that will allow us to see that trying to get people off drugs isn’t coddling them. It’s making all of society healthier.

Or we can keep doing what we’re doing, and we can keep getting the same results.

Michelle Teheux may be reached at mteheux@pekintimes.com.

The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.