Why not build addicts a city -- far away?

October 01, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

LET'S BUILD Drug City.

Let's put houses in it with indoor plumbing and heat. It will have electrical power, natural gas and a water supply. It will, in essence, have most of the things any average American city has, with one exception.

All its residents would be drug users. We would make drugs legal, and stock each drug user's house with as many drugs as he or she needed. Let them get stoned out of their minds as often as they'd like.

There would be two catches. Drug City would be far, far away from most American cities. Let's put it in as remote a place as possible, like that tip of Alaska that is closest to Siberia. There would be no escape from Drug City. Drug users would go there for life, or until they made a serious commitment to kick drugs.

I offer this proposal not in a facetious spirit. I'm dead serious. We've wrestled with this drug problem for years now. Many have despaired of what now must be jokingly referred to as the "War on Drugs." Some have even suggested that drugs be either legalized or decriminalized, as if there is a distinction between the two.

"We can't stop it," authors David Simon and Edward Burns lament in their book "The Corner." Graphically recounting a year in the lives of several people involved in the drug trade at Monroe and Fayette streets in Baltimore, Simon and Burns claim an ineffective drug war has concentrated mainly on users and street-level dealers in the inner cities at the expense of civil liberties. Baltimore's 50,000 drug users will line up daily for their drugs no matter how many people we arrest, the authors argue. Thus the problem will always be with us.

Not if we build Drug City, it won't. Let's give those 50,000 drug users the option of either getting serious treatment here or going to Drug City where they can have their drugs for the rest of their lives. That, of course, would require legalizing drugs. Some would see that as surrendering in the "War on Drugs."

But that war has never existed. In any real war, we would have moved to cut off the enemy's -- in this case, international drug lords' -- supply lines. We would have used the pretext of national security to invade Latin American and Asian countries that grow the plants that provide heroin and cocaine, and we would have used some of those same defoliants used in Vietnam to kill the problem at its source.

That we haven't done so should raise the question of why we haven't, of whether our country's leaders feel that our economy couldn't do without the billions of dollars generated by illegal drugs.

Building Drug City would be a quid pro quo arrangement. Druggies would get what they want -- an endless supply of drugs. We would get what we want -- these poot-butts away from us for the rest of our lives.

Having them separate would also solve the problem of what drugs should be provided. In the debate on legalizing drugs, the question has been posed of which ones should be legalized -- marijuana and heroin, perhaps -- and which ones shouldn't -- crack and PCP. With druggies in Drug City, we would be out of harm's way. They could use PCP and crack to their hearts' content.

Should there be counselors in Drug City? Of course. Otherwise, we would never know when any of these folks would get tired of drugs and decide they might want to live something resembling a normal life. With a steady supply of drugs available to them, it's possible they might, just might, eventually get tired of getting high.

Likewise there would be job training and educational centers, not that these would be used much in Drug City. But the avenues for an eventual return to normal society should be there. We wouldn't want to offend bleeding heart liberals, who would find an idea like Drug City anathema. The bleeding hearts would consider moving druggies to an isolated environment -- even one as wide open as a city -- for purposes of confinement cruel and unusual punishment.

It would cost us, building Drug City, but probably no more than the "War on Drugs" is costing us now. Right now 70 percent to 80 percent of crime is drug-related. Think of the boon Drug City would be to our courts and to our citizens who have been robbed or have had their homes burglarized by druggies looking for money for their next fix.

Those thinking that a Drug City would be a bad idea had best contemplate whether it is any worse than what has been proposed already.

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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