From Robert Sharpe, policy analyst for the nonprofit organization Common Sense for Drug Policy in Washington, D.C.:
How should North Carolina respond to the growing use of methamphetamine? During the crack epidemic of the '80s, New York City chose the zero tolerance approach, opting to arrest and prosecute as many offenders as possible. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry was smoking crack and America's capital had the highest per capita murder rate in the country. Yet crack use declined in both cities simultaneously.
The decline was not due to a government anti-drug campaign or the passage of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Simply put, the younger generation saw firsthand what crack was doing to their older brothers and sisters and decided for themselves that crack was bad news.
This is not to say nothing can be done about meth. Access to drug treatment is critical for the current generation of users. A study conducted by the RAND Corporation found that every additional dollar invested in substance abuse treatment saves taxpayers $7.48 in societal costs. Diverting resources away from prisons and into treatment would save both tax dollars and lives. In order to protect future generations from drugs like meth, politicians are going to have to come up with a common sense drug policy that doesn't involve subsidizing organized crime.
Right now we're throwing good money after bad. Attempts to limit the supply of illegal drugs while demand remains constant only increase the profitability of trafficking. For addictive drugs like meth, a spike in street prices leads desperate addicts to increase criminal activity to feed desperate habits. The drug war doesn't fight crime, it fuels crime.
Don't expect a radical drug policy rethink anytime soon. Tough-on-drugs politicians have built careers on confusing drug prohibition's collateral damage with drugs themselves. Hazardous meth labs are reminiscent of the exploding liquor stills that sprang up during alcohol prohibition. Drug policies modeled after alcohol prohibition have given rise to a youth-oriented black market. Drug dealers don't ID for age, but they do recruit minors immune to adult sentences. So much for protecting the children.
Taxing and regulating marijuana, the most popular illicit drug, is a cost-effective alternative to never-ending drug war. As long as marijuana distribution remains in the hands of organized crime, consumers will continue to come into contact with addictive drugs like meth. This "gateway" is the direct result of a fundamentally flawed policy.
Given that marijuana is arguably safer than legal alcohol -- the plant has never been shown to cause an overdose death -- it makes no sense to waste tax dollars on failed policies that finance organized crime and facilitate hard drug use.
Drug policy reform may send the wrong message to children, but I like to think the children are more important than the message.