Coalition seeks new drug policy
Seattle Times staff reporter
The "War on Drugs" failed a long time ago and it's time to create a new policy to control drug abuse, one based more on treatment and education and less on punishment, members of a coalition of local doctors, lawyers, church leaders and public-health officials said yesterday during a joint news conference.
"We are spending an enormous amount of money on drug issues at present," said John Cary, president of the King County Bar Association, which is spearheading the coalition. "This expenditure has a great impact on our justice system at every level. And it's not paying off for us."
Coalition members said a more effective approach could begin with the state Legislature creating a commission filled with experts from medicine, education and law enforcement, among others, to study what they consider the shortcomings of the current drug-policy approach and make recommendations for change.
"Opening up such a discussion is a socially responsible endeavor," said Sunil Aggarwal, president of the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, "as it allows for frank and public discussion of how we should best allocate scarce taxpayer resources in a manner that best protects public health and safety."
The bar association, concurrent with the news conference, released a 145-page report three years in the making, authored by the association's "Drug Policy Project."
It begins with a history of drug enforcement in the United States and ends with suggestions for foundations for a new drug policy, specifically state-level government regulation and control of drugs, but not legalization or commercialization of them.
In between, the report discusses international trends in drug policy and provides examples from Canada, Australia and Europe, including countries that provide drugs to qualified addicts in controlled settings, or have decriminalized and decreased penalties for certain drugs.
The report also says the current drug-control system facilitates an underground "black market" for drugs that is controlled by criminals.
The coalition agrees to certain principles. For example, the way society responds to drug abuse should not be more costly and cause greater harm than drugs themselves, and there is too heavy an emphasis on putting drug users in prison.
"It's an injustice to try to solve deep social and psychological, spiritual and physical problems with one solution: incarceration," said the Rev. Sanford Brown, executive director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle. "We believe it's smarter social policy to be treating addicts than just to be warehousing them."
However, coalition members stopped short of endorsing any specific plans. That's in large part because the coalition continues to grow and there isn't yet consensus among each of the groups about what the best specific plans are, said Jeff Mero, president of the Washington State Public Health Association.
Copies of the report are available from the bar association by calling 206-267-7001.
Michael Ko: 206-515-5653 or email@example.com
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