Former Judge takes on the Drug War

Check out a wonderful OpEd by Martin Haines, a retired Superior Court judge and a former State Bar Association president, published Thursday in the Asbury Park Press.
Some important stats, plus these comments:

The evidence is crystal clear: The drug war is a destructive failure. Every statistic underlines the fact that drug use over time has increased regularly despite the ever-widening war and its ever-increasing cost…

Yet our governments persist in escalating the war, unwilling to accept its failure. They have convinced the public, through years of misleading education, that drug use is so threatening to our society that harsh criminal laws, tough prosecutions and stiff penalties offer the only hope of keeping it in check. As a result, elected officials, fearful of looking soft on drugs and losing elections, refuse to consider alternatives.

In fact, only alternatives to the drug war can resolve our drug problems. Harsh laws, as the statistics show, make the problem worse, not better. Those laws must be changed. Treatment should become the first and best alternative to punishment. Penalties must be reduced to recognize marijuana as mostly harmless unless used in large quantities. Judges need sentencing discretion that permits them to deal with defendants constructively and individually, instead of subjecting them to the same punishment for the same offense, regardless of age, history and the nature and extent of drug use. Without that discretion, sentences depend entirely on the offense charged by prosecutors, who enjoy largely unreviewable control over charging decisions. Foreign countries are moving to adopt such changes. Holland, for example, has adopted law reforms that permit up to 30 grams of marijuana to be possessed and cultivated without risking arrest or prosecution. It has encouraged the growth of clubs, where marijuana can be purchased openly and safely….

Badly needed is an ongoing public discussion of the drug war and its alternatives. Public officials have resisted such discussions. Without them there can be little hope of convincing a badly educated public that the drug war is wrong, harmful, expensive and incorrect in its premises. The public needs to be redirected to that understanding. When it is, decent laws can be adopted to end the drug war.

It seems to me that we’re seeing more of this kind of editorial these days, which I consider a hopeful sign. More people are willing to speak up, and more people will be forced to listen to the truth.

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