Collateral damage in a lost war on drugs

October 1, 2010

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BRIAN MCGRORY writes, in “We’ve hit a new low in depravity’’ (Page A1, Sept. 29), that, among “the visibly shaken mayor [and his] police commissioner’’ and the “grim-faced district attorney,’’ “none of them, nor anyone else . . . is quite sure what to do to stop’’ drug-related violence. The most potent reason for the latest orgy of violence depicted in the Globe’s excellent, chilling coverage (“A city enraged: Toddler, 3 others slain in Mattapan; officials vow arrests,’’ Page A1, Sept. 29) is hinted at in another part of that day’s paper: the financial pages, and the item “Prison operator raises its profit forecast.’’ While people lay dying on the streets of Boston, Corrections Corporation of America reported a 7.4 percent increase in quarterly profits.

While governments around the nation teeter on the verge of bankruptcy trying to fund municipal services, private enterprise has found a niche supplementing bursting prison systems.

It is impossible to win the so-called war on drugs because the forces of economics make the drug industry’s product more valuable with every ratcheting up of the laws, penalties, and enforcement armies. And so the drug traffic destabilizes not only Boston neighborhoods, but whole nations and regions of the world.

The United States already has the world’s highest rate of incarceration, and yet our state and federal drug warriors will doubtless be calling for more police officers, higher sentences, and additional prisons, all of which will produce more death and tragedy on our streets.

It has been decades since the federal government began legislating the “war on drugs.’’ How much longer will it take for us to recognize what fools we have been to believe the drug warriors’ propaganda?

Harvey A. Silverglate
The writer is a criminal defense and civil liberties trial lawyer.

RE “IN Mattapan, a grisly sign of a wider crime problem’’ (Editorial, Sept. 29): The “wider crime problem’’ in this country is that the drug war is over: Drugs have won. As with the nationwide ban on alcohol during the Prohibition-era 1920s, there is simply too much tax- free cash in drug distribution to ever rid us of the industry’s employees, their murderous turf fights, and the innocent blood they regularly claim. It is time to place drugs along with alcohol and tobacco on the legalized and taxable list. Everyone in the drug trade, from the lords of the cartels to the street dealers, would promptly be on the unemployment line, and society could save untold billions of dollars over the first 10 years.

If our society can successfully stigmatize smoking, the same can be done for drugs. And if a few rich teens in the suburbs ruin their lives by becoming addicts, it is a form of collateral damage I am willing to risk.

Jack Kay

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