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Do you wanna buy meth, crack along with a slurpee at 7-11?

You may be able to purchase meth, marijuana and cocaine along with your favorite beverage at 7-11, if the Global Commission on Drug Policy has its way. The Commission’s report, recently  released,  advocates ending the “criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but do no harm to others.”

I applaud the Commission’s stance on grappling with a world-wide problem, but I believe legalizing these drugs is misguided. This high-profile panel includes luminaries from politics and renowned organizations, but not anyone who has had personal experience with the ravaging effects of street drugs.

Equally important is one of  the Commission’s  stated purposes in addressing this problem: Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens.

The Commission appears to engage in a trade-off. That is, to curtail the drug cartels’ vise-grip on drug distribution, the Commission would encourage countries to regulate distribution of street drugs. As a former drug user and now as a criminal defense attorney, I know some things about drugs and their unintended effects.

I know that methadone is used for “maintenance.” How else can I explain why persons I grew up with and who were addicted to drugs switched  to methadone and now, 40 years later, are still getting their juice every week?

I know that persons I have represented who have abused drugs, particularly meth and crack, have destroyed their physical and mental health. And I know that most of these drugs have far reaching effects on the user’s family. From decimating the family unit-absentee parent, termination of parental rights, chemically dependent children-to stunting the deveopment of the family, nothing good comes from legalizing street drugs.

Except maybe curtailing the drug organizations’ cash cow.

As a nation we need to address how we work with chemically dependent people. Even the Obama administration recognizes the futility  in legalizing street drugs as reflected in the June 9, 2011, LA Times article regarding this country’s counter-narcotics policy. But we cannot forsake those addicted at the price of trying to eradicate drugs from our communities.

If we are more vigilant in combating the prevalence of street drugs, along with a responsible,  committed approach to drug treatment, then we will also recognize what anyone who has gone through treatment recognizes:  treatment does work.

Mn. Legislature's Proposed Dept. of Corrections' Budget Cut Delivers One-Two Punch To Chemically Dependent Inmates

Minnesota prisons are not Party City, nor should they be. Instead, inmates are-first and foremost-imprisoned for retribution, then rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the education emphasized is the prison-style Three R’s(Respect, Reputation and Revenge).

So, when an authentic, effective drug treatment program is operating within the prison walls with documented success, it is in every one’s interest to maintain the program. You would think.

The Minnesota Legislature feels differently. As reported in the May 26, 2011, StarTribune, the legislure proposes a 25 percent cut in treatment funds. This, from a program that reduces the recidivism rate by 25 percent!

How important is this program? It serves up to 1,200 inmates per year in a state with 85-90 percent of its inmates chemically dependent. The degree of dependency does not surprise me. As someone who was nurtured on a wide array of drugs in my teen years, from alcohol to hallucinogens to shoot-dope, and then spent 7-8 years in and out of juvenile and adult “corrections” facilities, followed by the last 32 years as a criminal defense attorney, it was common knowledge among inmates the extent to which inmates were addicted.

In fact, it was the inmate who never drank or did drugs that stood out as the exception to the population. Interestingly, I found as I progressed through the county and then state institutions a marked increase in drug abuse. Many times the addiction would overlay and cloud numerous personal issues, including illiteracy and abandonment, as a child and as an adult. 

As Sen.Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chair of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, stated in justifying the budget cut proposal,  the priority is having task forces knocking down doors to drug houses to make the communities safer. But who do the drug houses serve? As a criminal defense attorney who handles a large number of drug cases in both state and federal courts, it is extremely rare to find a drug seller or a patron of a drug house who is not chemically dependent.

Focusing on eliminating drug houses while deemphasizing treatment is a disaster in the making. People go to prison because we-the community-want them in prison. And people will receive treatment when we-the community- decide we want them to have treatment. As Dianne Seger, director of chemical dependency services at the Dept. of Corrections, stated, “They’re going to be your neighbor. Do you want them sober, or do you want them doing what they were doing?”

Surely, not all inmates in the program are genuinely interested in treatment. Undoubtedly, some are gaming the system. But at least they positioned themselves to become exposed to a healthy lifestyle alternative. With them, it might work.

But if we support a reduction in funds, we consciously reduce bed space and counselors dedicated to protecting society through drug rehabilitation, one inmate at a time.

Sen. Limmer, is that not an immediate priority?


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