Drug Policy Reform Strategies - Except from Judge James Gray
The following is an excerpt from Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs,
by Judge James Gray. It is an amazing book told from a vital
perspective, which is both thorough and easy/fun to read. Having
reading some books on the issue, these are the most concrete
conclusions or strategies to reforming our country's drug policies that
I most agree with, personally...
- Education -
Our drug education programs must tell people the truth, especially
young people. We must treat our children like the real human beings
that they are. Slogans may be okay for our young children, but
adolescents and young adults need to have an honest and truthful
presentation of risks and benefits. Educational programs must take into
account that, dangerous as they are, these mind-altering drugs are here
to stay, and all of us in varying ways will receive pressure to use
them. But if we do take these drugs, there are risks involved, legally,
socially, and physiologically. One way or the other, each of us will be
held accountable for our actions.
- Needle Exchange
- Lobby our governmental representatives to institute and support these
proven programs. This is a "no-brainer." Needle-exchange programs have
been proven materially to increase the health of the user while not
increasing drug use or abuse. Further, they have the collateral
benefit, just like the programs for recyclable bottles and cans, of
removing them from our streets, thereby reducing the risk that we and
our children will contract AIDS or other infectious diseases by coming
into contact with dangerous hypodermic needles that are now thrown away
as litter. And do not permit anyone to say in your presence that needle
exchange programs "send the wrong message" to our children. The message
we are sending under our current drug policy is, "Go ahead and die. We
don't care about your health, your life, or even the lives of your
sexual partners or your children if you use drugs.
- Send the Right Message - Help to end the federal subsidy on tobacco.
- Hemp -
Lobby our governmental representatives to legalize hemp, that is,
marijuana plants with a THC level of .3 percent or lower. This is also
a no-brainer. A THC level of .3 makes the plant impotent as a
mind-altering drug. But the hemp from the stalk of these plants can
re-institute a historically profitable industry. The legalization of
hemp will make a major positive impact on our job market and our
environment. At a time in which more and more of our old growth forests
are being withdrawn from logging operations, we can rejuvenate our
industries for paper pulp, plywood, two-by-fours, rope, textiles,
nontoxic paints and varnishes, and many other products from
fast-growing hemp. Why cut down trees when hemp can do the job just as
- Medical Marijuana
- Lobby our governmental representatives to pass legislation to allow
licensed medical doctors to prescribe marijuana to their patients. The
most expeditious route would be for the president to reschedule
marijuana as a Schedule II rather than a Schedule I drug. If the
president lacks the courage to take this simple step, then we must
pursue the legislative course. It goes without saying that a doctor who
over-prescribes this or any other drug must be held accountable under
our current regulations. But the viability of marijuana to relieve the
symptoms of cancer, AIDS, and other serious illnesses has been proved,
and it is heartless, if not criminal, to deprive suffering patients the
relief that this substance can bring.
- Allow our medical doctors, instead of police officers, to determine
appropriate medications for various maladies and to relieve pain - and
hold the doctors accountable for any possible abuses.
- The Eight-Percent Early Intervention Program
- Significant studies have shown that 8 percent of all juvenile
offenders commit about half of all juvenile offenses. These
"eight-percenters" can be detected by screening them to determine if
they have three or more of the following four profile factors: 1)
significant family problems, such as abuse, neglect, criminal family
members, or a lack of parental supervision and control; 2) significant
problems at school, such as truancy, failing more than one course, or a
recent suspension or expulsion; 3) a pattern of drug or alcohol use;
and 4) delinquent peers, chronic runaway, or patterns of stealing. This
screening should be done the very first time any juvenile offender is
taken into the juvenile justice system. Then we must, if only for our
own safety and preservation, provide more services not only to that
juvenile offender, but also to that offender's entire family. This
program reduces both crime and substance abuse.
- Community Policing
- Policing programs that get the officers out of their patrol cars and
back into the communities they are attempting to serve have been proven
to work. Studies have shown not only that violence from the police
begets community cooperation and peaceful conditions. In effect, this
is a mentoring program for the entire community. Of course police must
still arrest and jail offenders. But just as medical doctors use
surgery as a last resort, police should use their powers of arrest in
the same fashion.
- Strictly Administered Probation for Nonviolent Offenders
- Strictly administered probation costs much less money than prison -
and it is much more effective. And it can be combined with a strict
program of restitution paid by the offender back to the crime victim.
Unfortunately our present system punishes the victims of crime three
times: first, when the crime is originally perpetrated against them;
second, when they are forced to come to court on several occasions to
testify; and third, when we force them to reach into their pockets and
pay for the incarceration of the offender. Concentrate instead on a
strictly applied program of restitution from the offender to the
victim, which would be much more effective for the offender, for the
victim, and for society itself. This would also allow us to reserve
prison space for violent offenders, who simply must be removed from
society for as long as possible.
- Drug Treatment
- Make quality drug treatment programs available on demand for
everyone. The Delancey Street treatment programs are a successful model
in teaching self-sufficiency to heavily addicted people. Mentoring,
caring, hope, and personal accountability are the keys. As long as we
continue to incarcerate nonviolent offenders, their treatment
facilities should be low-security institutions. These will cost the
taxpayer much less money and achieve much lower recidivism rates. And
if the person incarcerated is a single parent, a residential program
should be available that would allow the family unit to stay together
in appropriate circumstances.
- Drug Courts
- These take more judicial resources and patience; but they work with
addicted people and give them hope. But again, just as with alcohol,
the mind altering drug does not have to be illegal in order to use the
criminal justice system effectively to coerce the problem user into
treatment. Use drug courts for appropriate nonviolent but problem drug
users who find their way into the criminal justice system because of
their misdeeds, just as we do now for nonviolent problem alcohol
- De-profitize the Drug Market as Best We Can
- Bring the use and possession of these drugs back under the law! Of
course these drugs are dangerous, but the money from their sale causes
more harm than the drugs themselves. A black market of some kind will
always be with us, but it can be severely diminished in size and power.
Under our current system there are no controls at all on who can buy
these drugs, on their quality or purity, or on quantities sold, except
those controls enforced by the criminal drug sellers, who, of course,
pay no taxes on the sales. And it is easier for our children to buy
cocaine or heroin than it is for them to buy a six-pack of beer. The
distribution of alcohol is controlled by the government. The
distribution of drugs like cocaine is controlled by the mob. Virtually
any system would be better than what we have now.
- Drug Substitution Programs
- Take the governmental paranoia out of this area. Protect our
communities more from the harmful actions of drug-addicted people, and
a little less from the potential harms of drugs like methadone.
- Drug Maintenance Programs
- Until our drug-addicted people will participate in drug treatment
programs, maintain them under medical supervision on their drugs in as
safe a manner as possible. Remember that "dead addicts can't get clean."
- Reform Asset Forfeiture Laws
- Allow forfeiture of money and other property involved in drug law
violations only after a criminal conviction, with the issue of
forfeiture being submitted to the same jury. We obviously must fund our
law enforcement agencies sufficiently for them to protect our people,
but this funding must not come from sharing in the "plunder" of drug
- Reward Prison Wardens for Low Recidivism Rates
- Changing the incentives to recognize and reward prison wardens for
reduced rates of recidivism of their inmates would result in every one
of then adopting drug treatment programs and other proven programs that
would materially improve the lives of the inmates and their families,
reduce the overall costs to the taxpayers, and make us all safer.
- Safe Passage to Seek Medical Care - Pass laws allowing people to seek medical care for other people who have overdosed, with no questions asked.
- Revise Our Spending Priorities
- The federal government is spending more on TV commercials than on
after-school programs for our children - even though these programs are
the most effective way to prevent adolescent drug abuse.
- Mandatory Minimum Sentences
- Repeal laws that take away discretion from judges in the sentencing
of nonviolent criminal offenders. Instead, hold judges accountable by
requiring them to specify the reasons for their sentences on the public
record. Mandatory minimum sentences have filled our prisons with
low-level drug offenders, have unnecessarily ruined thousands of lives,
and have discredited the law in the eyes of hundreds of thousands of
Americans - and rightfully so.
- Three-Strike Laws
- Utilize these laws only for serious or violent felonies. Otherwise we
will continue to fill up our prisons, at great human and financial
expense, with low-level, nonviolent drug offenders.
- Prison Construction
- Write frequent letters to your elected officials demanding a
moratorium on all prison construction until the War on Drugs is
- Teach Classes in Addiction Medicine - Our medical schools should be encouraged to educate our future doctors in the area of addiction medicine.
- Prescription Drug Abuse
- Focus on the problems of all drug abuse, including prescription drugs
and alcohol, instead of only on drugs that happen to be illegal at the
- Alcohol Abuse
- End the glamorization of alcohol through such things as advertising,
particularly to our children. Today's sports events, rock concerts, and
even political events often seen like on big beer advertisement. And
tighten the restrictions that keep alcohol from being available to
children and adolescents.
- Support and Encourage Research
- There are some exciting studies that show, for example, that a
substance called ibogaine reduces the problems of addiction, that a
deficiency of manganese results in greater aggression and addiction,
and the marijuana reduces the symptoms of several serious illnesses.
Other studies are beginning to show that addiction may actually be a
brain disease, or may be connected with genes associated with our
"biological clocks." Encourage people to keep their minds open, and
support the funding of this important research.
- Help Defend Our Civil Liberties
- Raise the alarm about the loss of protections under the Bill of
Rights as a direct result of U.S. drug policy. Ask yourself and others
what Thomas Jefferson, Tom Paine, Abraham Lincoln, or Theodore
Roosevelt would have done under these circumstances.
- Send the Right Message - Prohibit the sale of all alcohol at gasoline stations.
- Support the "federalism" instead of the "federalization" of drug
policy. As we did after the repeal of Alcohol Prohibition, allow each
state to address these problems in the manner best suited for its
needs, and restrict the federal government to helping each state
enforce its chosen laws.
- International Agreements
- Revise our treaties with other nations to allow each country to adopt
programs addressing its domestic drug problems in the way that best
meets its needs.
- Stop the Political Charade - Put an end to the embarrassing and arrogant political game of certifying various nations around the world according to our perception of their "cooperation" in pursuing our War on Drugs.
These ideas, bibliographical references and more can be found in Judge James Gray's book, Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2001.
I have copied this portion of the Judge Gray's book without permission. Upon reading it, I felt a need to scream it from the rooftops, and this was my closest appropriate method. I apologize if this copying is deemed inappropriate, and will remove the excerpt from this site if necessary. Also, as I copied this by hand, be assured and typos are my mistakes and not the author's.