Rethinking the Legalization of Drugs

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, DEC. 17, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The recent death of a prominent Irish model, Katy French, has received widespread media attention. Her death was attributed to cocaine taken during a party. Two young men also died in past days in Ireland due to cocaine consumed at a party.

Father Martin Crowe, the priest who presided the funeral of the second man to die, John Grey, urged young people to stay away from drugs, reported the Irish Independent newspaper on Dec. 12.

In November, Dublin's archbishop, Diarmuid Martin, spoke out strongly against drugs. In a Nov. 4 sermon, he accused wealthy professionals of supporting the criminal underworld through the use of so-called recreational drugs, reported the Irish Independent on Nov. 5.

A few days later the archbishop returned to the subject, during a talk given at an inner city policing forum in Dublin. He endorsed the call made by President Mary McAleese that people should stop buying drugs in order to put the narcotics gangs out of business, according to an article published Nov. 12 in the Irish Times newspaper.

In spite of the harm caused by drugs, periodic calls for their legalization continue to be heard. A senior British police officer, Richard Brunstrom, the chief constable of North Wales, called for all drugs to be legalized, reported the Independent newspaper on Oct. 15.

Brunstrom's comments came as the government is reviewing its drug policy, the article noted. Nevertheless, according to the Independent, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is firmly opposed to the decriminalization of drug use.

Reversing

In fact, the trend seems to be moving away from the legalization of drugs. On Oct. 19, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a change in government policy, reported an article posted on the Daily Standard section of the Weekly Standard magazine's Web page.

Instead of tolerating drugs in the future, there will be greater emphasis on treatment for users and jail for dealers and producers. Harper announced increased funding for treatment centers and the creation of minimum sentences for drug crimes.

The Oct. 22 issue of the Weekly Standard magazine reported that the Netherlands is also changing its drug policy. Recently the Dutch government banned the sale and cultivation of magic mushrooms. As well, the city of Rotterdam passed a law that will shut down some of the shops selling drugs. In recent years the country has also increased penalties for large scale marijuana production and carried out a public campaign against the use of ecstasy.

Meanwhile, calls in Scotland for drug addicts to be prescribed heroin were rejected by the governing Scottish National Party, reported the Scotsman newspaper Sept. 7. Fergus Ewing, the minister for community safety, declared that the government would instead concentrate on getting people off drugs.

"We want to get more people off drugs, not to find new ways of providing more drugs or new drugs for people," said Ewing.

Joseph Califano, secretary of U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1977 to 1979, told the Financial Times that legalizing drugs "is a one-way ticket to destroying millions of children, increasing violent crime and pushing up health care costs," the newspaper reported Aug. 16.

Califano, currently chairman and president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, warned that legalization would mean the establishment of businesses that, like the tobacco companies, would have no qualms in promoting products that maim and kill people.

As it is, he commented, in the United States half the beds in most hospitals are filled with people sick or injured as a result of drug use, drinking and smoking. "Legalization assures greater availability, and availability is the mother of use," said Califano.

Australian report

These are views shared by a report tabled Sept. 13 in the Australian Federal Parliament. The Family and Human Services Committee publicized its conclusions on an inquiry into the impact of illicit drug use on families. It was titled "The Winnable War on Drugs."

There was no time to act on the committee's recommendations before the recent national election which saw a change of government, but the hundreds of pages of the report nevertheless remain as evidence of the damage caused by drug use.

The committee recommended an anti-drug campaign to tell young people the truth about damage caused by drugs. The ill effects range from dental damage to mental disease and even death. There is also evidence of the aging effects of drugs on physical appearance.



The report also testified on the impact for families stemming from drug use. When a child uses drugs, the rest of his family often suffers grief and stress, sometimes withdrawing from social contact. When parents are affected by drugs, children often suffer from neglect and abuse, which at times lead to death.

The committee declared its preference for a zero tolerance approach to drug policy. It criticized those who favor a harm-minimization policy that promotes treatment, but does not have as its aim enabling users to become drug-free.

The report also criticized the glamorization of drug use by the media that encourages people to experiment with so-called party drugs.

The committee was favorable to the policy followed by Sweden. The report explained that after a period of decriminalization of illicit drugs in the 1960s, Swedish policy reverted to criminalize all illicit drug use, and to provide treatment oriented at ending drug use.

As a result of this approach, the parliamentary committee observed, drug use in Swedish society has been dramatically reduced over recent decades and is now very low relative to the rest of the European Union and other industrialized countries

Human freedom

The Catholic episcopal conference in Argentina also recently addressed the drug question, in a declaration dated Nov. 9. In their statement titled "Drugs, the Synonym of Death," the bishops expressed their sorrow at suffering of many families whose children are harmed due to the use of drugs.

They referred to the condemnation of drug use by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. "The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life," states No. 2291. "Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense," the Catechism stipulates.

Drug use, and the resulting addiction, is dehumanizing, the Argentine prelates explained, because is nullifies the supreme gift of human freedom and leads to the destruction of a person's plans for the future.

The drug problem is much more than the use of certain substances, the statement continued. At its roots it is a question of culture, values and the options we choose in our lives. As well, often young people are tempted by drugs because they feel their lives lack meaning and happiness.

Along with educating people about the dangers of drugs and making treatment for addicts more widely available, the bishops also recommended promoting a culture of life, based on the dignity of the human person, called to be happy and to live free of slavery, including that of the false paradise of drugs.

They noted that Jesus, in John 10:10, said: "I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly." To those who suffer as a result of drugs we should bring them closer to the heart of Christ and teach them God's love, the statement urged. Liberation from drugs, not prolonging their use, is the best way to safeguard human dignity.