Should Pot Be Legal?

Dave Evans (Left) Drug Free America Foundation, Judge James Gray (R), pro-marijuana advocate.
CBS
Editor's Note: This is the second installment of a two-part debate CBS News.com is hosting between Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and David Evans, an author and advisor to the Drug Free America Foundation. Part 1 can be found here. We want to hear your opinions as well so make sure to add your perspectives in the comments section below.

CBSNews.com Special Report: Marijuana Nation


David Evans
You asked what I would do the change things. I advocate for drug treatment courts. Drug treatment courts are an example of the balanced approach to fighting drug abuse and addiction. Drug courts seek to intervene and break the cycle of alcohol and drug addiction, crime, and child abuse. The drug court process begins when an offender is referred to a special court with support staff. Drug court participants undergo intensive substance abuse treatment, case management, drug testing, supervision and monitoring with immediate sanctions and incentives. The drug courts utilize judges, prosecutors, defense counsels, drug treatment specialists, probation officers, law enforcement and correctional personnel, educational and vocational experts, community leaders and others whose goal is to help addicts recover from their addiction and stay recovered. The courts may also provide ancillary services such as mental health treatment, family therapy, job skills training and anger management. Drug courts planning involves criminal justice, child protective services, treatment, law enforcement, and educational and community anti-drug and alcohol organizations.

Drug courts work. Research shows that more than 50 percent of offenders convicted of drug possession will return to criminal behavior within a few years. In contrast, those who complete a drug court have lower rates of recidivism that range from 2 to 20 percent. The drug court is successful because it forces the addict to stay with the program. The addict cannot simply quit treatment when he or she feels like it.

The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime has this to say about drug courts:

The UN 1988 Drugs Convention, UNGASS Guiding Principles on Demand Reduction and related Action Plan specifically target drug-abusing offenders and call on governments to take effective multidisciplinary remedial initiatives. Drug Courts can be a very effective element in an overall package of responses.

UNODC's Legal Advisory Program works closely with professionals, practitioners and organizations in an informal Drug Court network.

James Gray:
Here we have agreement! But on that subject, I am proud to say that I probably established the first drug court in our country back in 1984, when I put in a drug court for alcohol-related offenses. We screened the offenders in order to determine who was addicted to alcohol. Then we put them into a program that required total abstinence from alcohol, to the degree that, as I told them, if they even eat rumcake and I found out about it, I would put them in jail.

Our success rate was about 65 percent for 9 months, which was as long as I was able to keep statistics. But as I am sure you will agree, even though they work, drug courts take a high amount of judicial and staff time. In other words, they are expensive. So I believe we should spend those resources on those people who are causing harm to others because of their drug usage. And we will never run out of those people. And the people like Robert Downey, Jr. (whose situation you still have not addressed) who are not causing harm to others, should not be brought into the criminal justice system at all.

So we finally have a point of agreement, as long as those scarce and expensive resources are only used for those whose actions bring harm to other people. For those others, who fail our drug morality test, they should not be taking up those resources, and actually should not be in the criminal justice at all.

Your thoughts?

And what about the other questions? In the legal profession, we understand that if a question is asked to another, and there is no answer forthcoming, the law treats this as an admission by silence. So without a response, all of us will infer that there is no answer, and that therefore you agree.

David Evans

As previously stated the cost of keeping drugs illegal far out weighs the cost of legalization. Drug use is not "personal." Drug users may commit murder, or child or spouse or elder abuse, or rape, property damage, assault and other violent crimes under the influence of drugs. This includes marijuana as the studies previously sent to you confirm. The criminal justice system protects the victims of drug users and can be used to get the drug users into treatment. The victims include:

Children of drug users - Many children have drug using parents and are abused or neglected by those parents. Drug use is not a victimless crime.
Parents - The parents who have addicted children or who have lost children to drugs need our support. We can help them to take legal action against those who gave the drugs to their children.

Grandparents - Many parents are addicted to drugs and as a result their children are being raised by their children's grandparents. In addition, many grandparents have addicted grandchildren.

Victims of domestic violence - Spouse abuse and abuse of relatives are caused by drug abuse.

Students - Students are often victimized by violent drug users in their schools. In addition, the ability of the school to provide an orderly learning environment is impaired by drug users.
Drugged driving victims - Many people are injured or killed by drugged drivers.

Crime victims - People who have been assaulted and/or been robbed by drug users or otherwise harmed by them deserve protection.

Patients victimized by so called "medical" marijuana - Ill people who choose to use marijuana instead of legitimate medicines may become sicker due to marijuana use.

Elder abuse - Many elders are abused by drug users.

Sexual victims - Drug use leads to sexual promiscuity and spread of AIDS and other blood borne infections. These victims need support and protection.

James Gray
We are not making progress in this discussion.
Mr. Evans continues only to focus upon the issue that makes him comfortable, which is, of course, drug usage. And he is certainly correct, drug usage brings harm often to the user, as well as to others. But what he steadfastly and intentionally ignores are other ways to address those problems. He says drug use is not "personal" because others are harmed.

Well, the vast majority of drug use actually is personal, and no harm in any form comes to anyone else. For example, the federal government's statistics show that about 12 million people now in our country are using marijuana on a regular basis. (And those stats only reflect the people who voluntarily respond to a survey taker who is standing at their doorstep. So you can imagine how many others are not so willing to "self--report their marijuana usage.) Obviously the vast, vast majority of them are not violating the law, except by the purchase and use itself. But you continually provide us with a shopping list of crimes that do occur in which people are subject to murder, child or spouse or elder abuse, or rape, property damage, assault, etc. by others who have a drug problem, and I continue to agree with you. And nothing I say is intended to minimize that problem. But I also continue to say that the answer is to arrest and prosecute those perpetrators in court. Hold people accountable for their actions, because, just like with alcohol, the drugs do not have to be illegal to hold people accountable for what they do.

The criminal justice system is good at that. And if the perpetrators have drug problems (and the definition of a drug problem in many ways is that people commit crimes while under the influence of drugs), use the court system to punish them appropriately, and also to coerce them into treatment. Drug Courts, which Mr. Evans says he supports, are truly effective in that regard. But they are quite expensive, so they should be reserved for those people who are committing crimes, and not people like Robert Downey, Jr. who are harming only themselves. If the perpetrators are successful in that treatment, everybody wins. If the perpetrators are not successful in that treatment, remove them from society by putting them behind bars, because they will continue to be a threat to our safety. (By the way, it really is ironic that judges like me tried for years to establish drug courts, and were opposed by people like Mr. Evans because we were "coddling criminals," etc. But now, as we have seen, Drug Courts are the only change that Mr. Evans feels should be made from our present [failed and hopeless] approach.)

But if he and others like him simply refuse to acknowledge, much less discuss, the harms expressly caused by our present system, there becomes a diminishing return of carrying on the conversation. So in one last effort, Mr. Evans, do you agree that drug money also presents problems for our society and the world? Yes or No.

For example, do you agree that juvenile gangs in our country get an appreciable amount of funding from the sales of illicit drugs? Yes or No.

Do you agree that juvenile gangs in our country do not get any amount of funding from selling alcohol? Yes or No. Do you agree that terrorist organizations all around the world get an appreciable amount of funding from the sales of illicit drugs? Yes of No.

If you do agree, do you feel that any changes should be made in our nation's policy to address any of those problems? Yes or No. If so, what do you recommend?

Do you agree that the United States, the Land of the Free, leads the world in the incarceration of our people? Yes or No. We have 5 percent of the world's population, and about 25 percent of its prisoners. Does that make you happy, or do you think something should be done about it?

And finally for the moment, will you please tell us your thoughts about the actions taken in Switzerland, with the full support of the Swiss government, to prescribe heroin to heroin-addicted people. What do your footnotes say about these people's experience of seriously reduced crime, reduced drug selling and usage, 50 percent increased employment, and eventually increased requests for drug treatment? They have found that their children understand that being addicted to heroin is not a good thing, and they have seen that this is not the road they want to travel. How do you think our children would come to a different conclusion?

If you simply ignore these entire areas of the equation, I must simply say, without meaning to be unduly combative, that it is senseless to continue a discussion with you.

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David Evans
Judge Gray in essence claims that the US experiment with alcohol prohibition proves that problems result when a government attempts to make a popular substance illegal. The legalizers claim that there were increases in organized criminal organizations who sold alcohol illegally. The legalizers claim that it is better to legalize, tax and regulate drugs than to make them illegal.

A look at the history of Prohibition shows that this argument is deeply flawed for two reasons:

1. The circumstances surrounding Prohibition are so different than those of today that it is not helpful in analyzing present-day policy;

2. Prohibition was successful and did not create all the negative consequences that the legalizers claim it did.
David Teasley, an analyst with the Congressional Research Service of the US Library of Congress, did an in-depth analysis entitled, "Drug legalization and the Lessons of Prohibition." Teasley concluded that:

A comprehensive analogy between Prohibition and the modern drug problem is problematic in at least two major ways. First between the two eras there are significant differences that tend to undermine the pro-legalization analogy. Second, many arguments of the pro-legalizers are weakened by their reliance upon a widely held set of popular beliefs about Prohibition rather than upon recent historical evidence. Such attempts to create this analogy based upon these popular beliefs about Prohibition serve only to confuse the debate over legalization of illicit drugs.

What differences exist between the time of Prohibition and now?

(1) During prohibition the government sought to restrict the consumption of alcohol although lacking the consensus of the nation. Even during Prohibition most people had experience with and accepted alcohol. That is not the same today for illicit drugs. Prohibition went against the national consensus whereas the current drug policies do not.

(2) Prohibition laws were different than illicit drugs laws today. During Prohibition it was only illegal to sell alcohol and not to drink it. Today, it is both illegal to sell and to possess and use illicit drugs. Today's laws can be used to target the users while those of Prohibition could not.

(3) During Prohibition several U.S. states did not support the federal laws and this caused tension between the state and federal governments and hampered effective prosecutions. Today, the states have signed the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, and a state/federal consensus exists not present during Prohibition.

(4) Criminal penalties for illicit drug use are more severe today than in the 1920's so there is a more potent deterrent effect.

(5) During Prohibition the US was "dry" while the international community was "wet" and thus the US was at odds with the international community (much alcohol was imported from Canada). However, today the international community is resolute when it comes to drug policy as witnessed by three U.N. conventions on the use of illegal drugs.

(6) During Prohibition the structure of the government agencies designed to carry out the Prohibition laws was unstable, narrow and filled with political appointees. Today the U.S. national drug strategy involves over a dozen federal agencies coordinated by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The government bodies that enforce our drug policies are much larger, with better resources, and are much more professional than their Prohibition counterparts.

We cannot analogize the history of Prohibition with today's drug policies because there is not that much in common. Prohibition was on balance a successful policy for the following reasons:

1. There is no doubt that prohibition curbed alcohol abuse as its use declined by 30 to 50 percent. Deaths from cirrhosis of the liver fell from 29.5 per 100,000 in 1911 to 10.7 in 1929. Admissions to mental hospitals for alcohol psychosis fell from 10.1 per 100,000 in 1919 to 4.7 in 1928. Suicide rates decreased 50 percent and the incidence of alcohol-related arrests also declined 50 percent.

(2) Prohibition did not cause an increase in the overall crime rate but there was an increase in the homicide rate. However, the increase in homicides occurred mainly in the African-American community, and African-Americans at that time were not the people responsible for trafficking in alcohol.

We cannot legitimately compare Prohibition with our current efforts to control drugs because there are too many differences in the laws, the political establishment, the moral consensus, and the international community.

Judge Gray argues in essence that the "war" on drugs has failed. The major consumer of illegal drugs in the World is the US. The facts in the US provide for much optimism. The US has applied demand reduction, law enforcement, education and treatment to its drug problem. What are the results? There was a 33 percent reduction of the number of new heroin users from 156,000 in 1976 to 104,000 in 1999. Drug control has reduced casual use, chronic use and addiction, and prevented others from starting to use drugs. Drug use in the US is down by more than a third since the late 1970s. This means that 9.5 million fewer people use illegal drugs and cocaine use has been reduced by an astounding 70% resulting in 4.1 million fewer people using cocaine.

The recent evidence is clear that the U.S. approach works. Data released in 2008 from the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future Study (MTF), the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) System to Retrieve Information from Drug Evidence (STRIDE), and workplace drug tests performed by Quest Diagnostics showed that illicit drug use among young people continued to decline from 2001, with a 25 percent reduction in overall youth drug use over the last seven years. This means there are approximately 900,000 fewer young people using drugs today, compared to 2001. Additional declines in past-month youth use of specific drugs over the seven year period include:

• 25% reduction in marijuana use;

• 50% reduction in methamphetamine use;

• 50% reduction in Ecstasy use; and

• 33% reduction in steroid use.

The 2008 data show significant changes in the street-level price and purity of cocaine (key indicators of stress in the drug market) which suggests the supply of the drug on American streets is dropping. Positive drug tests for cocaine use among adults, as indicated by results of workplace drug tests nationwide, fell 38 percent from June 2006 through June 2008. Among young people, there was a 15 percent reduction in past-year use of cocaine from 2007-2008.

However, the 2008 data from the MTF Study shows a softening of youth anti-drug attitudes and beliefs (widely believed to be precursors of behavior) related to perceptions of harmfulness of marijuana and social disapproval of marijuana use. These counter trends occurred after drastic cuts to the US's largest youth drug education and prevention initiative, the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. Over the last nine years, Congress has slashed resources to this vital program by 68 percent, from $185 million in 1999 to $60 million in 2008.