ANALYSIS: Legal drugs not the way to 'Improve New Mexico'
ALBUQUERQUE (BP)--"Together, we can improve New Mexico," the slick television ad concludes. Aired repeatedly in recent weeks across the Land of Enchantment, the ad contends the problem is the failure of current laws to win the war on drugs. "New Mexico's current drug policies are failing," claims the "Improve New Mexico" website to which people are directed in the ad for more information on the subject. "Our families and communities are in trouble," it says, "and things seem to be getting worse." The ads began running Jan. 4 and are expected to air a total of five or six weeks at a total cost of $90,000, according to a Jan. 10 story in the Albuquerque Journal.
None of us can deny that despite the massive amount of dollars that have gone into the war on drugs around the world, illegal drugs are still a terrible problem in America. It is not the case, though, that those of us who disagree with current efforts to finally solve the problem, by liberalizing our drug laws, do not care about improving New Mexico. It is, indeed, precisely because many of us, as responsible Christian citizens, really do care about our neighbors that we oppose the extremely well-funded push to legalize destructive behavior.
The New Mexico Drug Policy Project of The Lindesmith Center Drug Policy Foundation claims that legislation supported by New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson "would help reduce drug-related crime, save New Mexico taxpayers money, and create healthier families and safer communities." I'm all for those, but I am convinced the bills will only make matters worse.
Don't be deceived into thinking that The Lindesmith Center is a grass-roots effort of concerned New Mexico citizens. It is, instead, a drug-policy group with offices in New York City and San Francisco. According to a Jan. 11, 2001, Baptist Press article, the financial backbone of the movement to legalize drugs consists of billionaire financier George Soros and cohorts John Sperling and Peter Lewis. They poured more than $20 million into state efforts during the 1990s, according to a 1998 Reader's Digest report. Secretaries of state in California and Arizona reported that the trio spent nearly $3.3 million backing referendums in their states in the fall of 2000, 96 and 99 percent, respectively, of the total money raised for the efforts.
The push during the 2002 30-day legislative session in New Mexico, which began Jan. 15, includes measures that would legalize the medical use of marijuana, decriminalize the personal use of small amounts of the drug, do away with mandatory minimum sentences for some drug-related offenses, and allow judges to send first- and second-time misdemeanor drug offenders to treatment centers instead of prison.
So what's wrong with all that? I assure you, plenty! (Let me hasten to say, though, before I begin my argument, that I personally know some very good Baptists who disagree with me on this as well as other issues. Nevertheless, I am in no way "against" them. I love them dearly and count it a privilege to walk and work with them in our common commitment to reach our world for Christ.)
The effort to legalize the medical use of marijuana to provide relief for people suffering chronic pain and discomfort clearly appeals to Americans' sense of compassion. In fact, promoting marijuana as an answer to the problem is anything but compassionate. Marijuana doesn't simply provide relief from pain, it's a mind-altering drug that causes mental disorientation and respiratory problems, containing more carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) than tobacco. It doesn't improve the lives of its users, it destroys them.
And why shouldn't we decriminalize the personal use of marijuana and eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for some offenses? "If everyone smoked marijuana at home, we would see increased accidents, accidents at work and increased crime as people get addicted to drugs and turned to crime," argued Barrett Duke, vice president of research for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in another BP article Jan. 11, 2001. Those who smoke the drug in the privacy of their own home CAN hurt people other than themselves!
As for treating drug users as criminals, that's not all bad. George F. Will wrote in the Sept. 17 issue of Newsweek: "Why did Robert Downey Jr. go into treatment? Because he was arrested." The columnist also pointed out the obvious: "Many people avoid drugs because they avoid lawbreaking."
Those who favor drug legalization are fond of pointing to what they consider "the fiasco" of the 13 years of Prohibition in America in the early part of the 20th century. But there is no way to get around the fact that consumption of the dangerous drug of alcohol declined as much as 50 percent during that period and didn't reach pre-Prohibition per-capita levels until the 1970s, Will noted.
Yes, we do still have a drug problem in America. But it is, I believe, ludicrous to argue that the war on drugs is a failure. Will further observed in his column that the number of heroin addicts has leveled off and the number of chronic cocaine users is well below the peak it reached in 1988.
Legalizing drugs may lower their prices, improve their quality and make them more readily available: That would certainly make users happy, but it would also dramatically increase the number of users and suppliers. I fail to see how that can improve New Mexico.
The Improve New Mexico website claims that bills being proposed to state legislators during their current session "are supported by many doctors, treatment providers, and law enforcement officers." I hope our readers understand that some people could feel perfectly comfortable using that word "many" to refer to more than one or two. The fact of the matter is, almost everyone in authority opposes legalization of illegal drugs. "You have to look long and hard to find any district attorney in favor of it," said Barrett Duke. Darren White, who resigned as head of the state Department of Public Safety in November 1999 over disagreement with the efforts of his boss, Gov. Johnson, to legalize drugs, now heads Protect New Mexico, which is leading the fight for strong drug laws.
According to a Jan. 8 story in the Albuquerque Journal, Protect New Mexico said Jan. 7 that easing drug laws will make the state a haven for drug users. The push for legalization itself, I believe, only encourages young people who are looking for excuses to use drugs, and the state would be, in effect, telling drug dealers that it's OK for them to sell to our kids. Again, I can't for the life of me see how that would improve New Mexico.
In recent years, citizen groups opposed to attempts to sanction drug use have been heavily outspent. That has been true in the past in our state and will probably be again this year, as well. Nevertheless, state legislators in the past have rejected the proposals, and they deserve our expressions of gratitude. When you tell them how much you appreciate them, I urge you to encourage them to do it again this year.
To borrow a statement from the "Improve New Mexico" website, "Together, we can improve New Mexico."