Ending the Drug Trade: A Modest Proposal

November 29, 1992|By ROBERT CAMERON NEW

In one year the drug trade in America can be crushed. Wishful thinking? Not at all.

The key to all law enforcement is community willingness to help the police find and prosecute law breakers. Prohibition failed because the people disagreed with the law, and they sat back and watched it being broken. The present situation with drugs is entirely different. People agree with the law.

Maryland is a typical state insofar as the problem of drugs and the penalties exacted for prosecution. Simple possession of any illegal substance, from marijuana to heroin, carries a maximum penalty of four years in jail or $25,000 in fines, or both. Possession with intent to distribute the major drugs of opium, morphine, codeine, heroin or cocaine carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail and/or $25,000 in fines. Smuggling increases the fines to $50,000 and/or 25 years in jail.

Similar stringent penalties exist in every state. Would you condemn your good friend or dear relative to the possibility of these extremely tough penalties for a crime which many people perceive, rightly or wrongly, as insignificant?

The answer is obvious. The steep penalties, designed to deter crime, actually abet it. This, together with the fear of retribution and the relative ineffectiveness of anonymous information, has created a climate where blowing the whistle is unthinkable or useless. Until such time as people are willing to step foreword and inform on a friend or loved one, this nation will be unable to rid itself of drugs.

And herein lies the answer to the problem. It is so simple, such plain common sense, that the answer has escaped the law enforcement community for decades.

Before we uncover the solution let's first define the problem more clinically. If there were no drugs, then no one would be guilty of breaking drug laws. No drugs, no dealers, no users, no smugglers, no profits, no problem. So, simply remove the drugs. The drugs are the real problem, not those who use or sell them.

Since interdiction of supply has been a dismal failure there remains then one other route possible. The drugs must be seized from the dealers and distributors, and, if this can be accomplished, we can win the war. But how?

Drug dealing is not a hidden crime. Every policeman knows the dealers and the drug houses. Citizens know who is doing it and where they hide their stock. Mothers know where junior keeps the "goodies." These drugs are contraband. They are illegal, in and of themselves. They can be confiscated whenever and wherever they are found. Even if a search proves to be illegal and the evidence cannot be used for prosecution, any contraband found cannot be returned.

The police anywhere could probably name dozens and dozens of storehouses where they are certain, beyond reasonable doubt, that drugs are kept, and yet the number of searches and seizures are too few to count. This is our first mistake. The courts will issue search warrants for these prime targets with relative ease. The raids should be carried out immediately.

Identify every person at the site but do not arrest them unless they are wanted on other charges. Seize the drugs and destroy them on the spot. Don't store them for evidence. This invites more trouble. And releasing the suspected dealers not only costs less than prosecuting them, it is also the most effective part of the entire strategy.

Once the drugs are gone, no one can be guilty of dealing in them. Take the profits away and no one wants to deal.

If a mother knew her son would not be prosecuted, she would gladly provide the police and the courts with all the evidence needed to justify a search warrant. The raid could be made, the drugs seized, and the boy would still be free, but probably shaking inside. Friends would be glad to provide the same evidence if they knew they were saving a dealer from himself, not sending him to a hardened criminal depository for many years.

Police could make hundreds of these raids every month, confiscating sizable quantities of drugs and uncovering many additional crimes and criminals. And even if the booty was flushed down the toilet, the end result would be the same. But now, let's go one step further.

Reward. Bounty. Let's pay where it will do some good. Let's reward those who squeal. Why not? Since the profit motive is the reason for the drugs, why not use it to destroy the traffickers?

One kilo of cocaine produces more than $100,000 in profits. We sometimes spend many times this amount to find and seize this relatively small quantity. Shouldn't someone who blows the whistle -- and places himself in jeopardy -- get at least $10,000 for each kilo found? Let's take this all-American, capitalist approach and let everyone benefit: mothers, fathers, friends, neighbors, snoops, bartenders, bums. Everyone gets a piece of the action. More than one informer, share the prize. Less than a kilo, reduce the prize. Less than 2 grams, no prize, to eliminate spending effort on small fry users.

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