The case for decriminalizing drug abuseSurgeon General...

the Forum

December 30, 1993

The case for decriminalizing drug abuse

Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders is right to suggest we rethink the criminality of drug use.

As a nation, we have a tendency to think that if something is "bad for you" it should be illegal.

Concern over alcoholism produced the Volstead Act, and look what it got us. Alcohol has been used from time immemorial to alter moods, and people will drink it no matter what the law says.

Prohibition brought us bootleggers, "rum runners" and gangsters. When big profits can be made by delivering a substance people will pay anything to get, there will always be suppliers.

Eventually, Prohibition was recognized as a mistake. After its repeal, the government regulated alcoholic beverages and made money through taxes. While no fault of the government, alcoholism today is a bigger problem than drug addiction.

Our present drug problem bears a remarkable resemblance to Prohibition. Some people will always want drugs -- and be willing to pay for them. That's why you have drug dealers, high profits and gang wars over turf. If the government regulated drug

production and distribution as it now regulates alcohol, the tax revenues could be used for anti-drug education and detoxification of addicts.

Bootleggers will always be with us, but this is a lesser problem than the street warfare we have today.

The first step is decriminalizing drug use. We are filling our prisons with nonviolent users, many of them first offenders who are caught in the mandatory sentence trap and cost taxpayers $20,000 a year to incarcerate. Sending them to college would be cheaper. Mandatory minimum sentences should be abolished so that judges can exercise their judgment.

ohn D. Fogarty

Columbia

Gun play

John B. Kimball's letter of Dec. 9 is a prime example of a person whose opinion of the role of a handgun is solely predicated on the big play the handgun is given by the media as they are used by the criminal element among us.

His statements, such as, "They are used only to kill or maim human beings," and "Hunters do not use them," bear this out. Hunters do use handguns for certain types of hunting and are doing so in ever increasing numbers.

Likewise, there is a whole fraternity of handgunners who for many, many years have enjoyed the highly skilled sport of just punching holes in paper targets. The handguns used in these pursuits far outnumber those used for illegal purposes.

Robert Wagner

Baltimore

Best man

It appears that President Clinton is starting to wise up on his cabinet appointments. He made the right decision choosing Bobby Inman to replace Defense Secretary Les Aspin.

President Clinton finally made a choice without considering race, gender, ethnic background, political affiliation or personal friendship.

Admiral Inman, a former Reagan appointee, is simply the best person for the job.

It is refreshing to see that the president is putting politics aside for the benefit of our country.

We need the best people in the cabinet, not the most politically correct.

Joseph Solomon

Ellicott City

No bull

I feel compelled to comment on the name Tagliabue, which has been much in the news lately.

The name is derived from two Italian words: tagliare (to cut) and bue (bull or ox). The compound name Tagliabue can be translated as "cut the bull."

A looser translation might be simply "the butcher" (as for one who cuts up a bull). In either case, Baltimore football fans might consider the translations of passing interest.

Incidentally, the name Tagliabue should be pronounced: tal-ya-boo-eh and not tag-li-uh-boo, as one hears so often.

William C. Vergara

Towson

Gun control leads to confiscation

I am tired of people like Gerald Alan Goldstein, whose Dec. 17 letter tries to demonize gun owners and the National Rifle Association for defending our Second Amendment right to own weapons.

Mr. Goldstein uses typical gun-control group distortion of the Second Amendment.

In a 1990 case, Chief Justice William Rehnquist stated that the phrase "the right of the people" has a consistent meaning in the Constitution.

He pointed to the First Amendment's "right of the people peaceably to assemble," the Second Amendment's "right of the people to keep and bear arms" and the Fourth Amendment's "right of the people to be sure . . . against unreasonable searches."

In every instance, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, the phrase "right of the people" refers to an individual right of Americans.

Mr. Goldstein states, "Our forefathers wanted to guarantee that we would never suffer from an oppressive government again." But then he seems to think that an oppressive government can't happen today. Wrong!

A mayor of San Francisco decided the city needed "gun registration" to allow the police to track criminals' weapons. That sounded like a "reasonable gun control measure."

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