Police chiefs say: Give away heroin

Police chiefs say: Give away heroin

By M. L. Simon

Police chiefs say: Give away heroin

The Association of Chief Police Officers are saying give away heroin. But don’t worry; these are not American police chiefs who are addicted to drug prohibition saying this. These are British chiefs who are ready to give up their narco addiction and declare that prohibition is more harmful than the drugs being prohibited.

Now many of you know from my Libertarian bent that I do not believe the government ought to be giving away anything free. But I am a pragmatist. And as a pragmatist, I happen to agree with the policy that the British police chiefs are proposing.

Here is why. Think of your typical (if there is such a thing) heroin addict. Say he uses $100 a day of heroin. Let us further assume that he steals to meet his daily heroin needs. How many dollars’ worth of goods would he have to steal to net $100 a day? If the addict gets paid 30 percent of what the goods are worth, that means about $350 a day worth of theft. If he is stealing car radios where he gets as little as 10 percent of the value of goods, that is $1,000 a day in car radios. Add to that the destroyed dashboards and broken windows and you have quite a cost. And this cost goes on every day for years on end till the thief is caught or gives up his habit. One heroin addict supporting his habit by theft can be quite a crime wave. Multiply this by the 500,000 or so American heroin addicts, and you have a serious crime wave going on. This is what the police refer to when they talk about drug-related crime, estimated to encompass 35 percent to 50 percent of all American crime. The estimates for the cost of this crime run from $50 billion a year to $500 billion a year. And we have not even mentioned the police resources required to attack this problem. The addicts in jail. The broken families. All in all, a colossal waste.

The British chiefs have decided that rather than attack this crime tactically one addict and crime at a time, they would rather attack this crime strategically by giving these addicts the heroin they would otherwise steal for.

The police chiefs have not gone completely off, however. The heroin will be dispensed at officially designated places with medical staff and social workers. There will be police there to see that the drugs, addicts and workers are guarded. This method of dispensing heroin is currently in use by the Swiss with very positive results. Thefts are down, and the number of gainfully employed addicts has gone from the 10 percent range to above 30 percent.

The Swiss system is costly, and some think it attracts new users. But it has reduced drug-related crime, and the pushers are no longer pushing the drug on new users. Crime is down, and criminals no longer have an easy road to financial gain.

In Britain from the 1920s to the 1960s, it was possible for doctors to prescribe heroin. There were about 500 heroin addicts in Britain in 1971. Today there are 500,000. Zero tolerance increased the number of addicts by a factor of 1,000. Pretty good for a policy that was designed to reduce the number of addicts to zero.

The British chiefs are desperate to try something different because, unlike their American counterparts, they have been able to tell themselves, their government and the British people the truth. The current policy of zero tolerance is not working.

Now it is quite possible that this new policy may not be the most effective, but it is very effective in one very important way. It breaks the log jam of “there is only one way to fight drugs”—the American prohibition model of arresting and incarcerating everyone the police can find involved in the drug trade. The British in their own pragmatic way have left the door open for policing if they feel the new policy is not working satisfactorily. It will still be illegal to buy, sell or possess heroin.

This is out-of-the-box thinking at its best. Other trials of various methods of dealing with heroin addiction are being tested in Australia, the Netherlands, and California. In California addicts arrested for the first or second time are mandated to go into drug treatment. Several other states where referendum is possible are about to try to vote in new methods of dealing with drugs.

The only people still thinking inside the box on the drug question are the state and federal governments. There could be at least two reasons for this lack of action. One is that they haven’t a clue. A second is that too many people benefit from the mess created by drug prohibition. In any case, it looks like it is the job of the citizens to set the government straight, as usual.

This week’s saying: Marijuana makes a lot of people happy; Police, lawyers, judges, jailers, jail builders and others too numerous to mention.

Ask a politician: Do you support drug prohibition because it finances criminals at home or because it finances terrorists abroad?

This week’s politician:

Senate Judiciary Comittee Member Pete V. Domenici

(202) 224-6621

(202) 224-3844 TTY/TDD

To send him an e-mail, go to: http://domenici.senate.gov/contact/contactme.cfm

M.L. Simon is an industrial controls designer and independent political activist

(c) M. Simon – All rights reserved. Permission granted for one time use in a single periodical publication. Permission also granted for concurrent publication on the periodical’s www site.

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