Teen Gets 8 Years Over Pot: Legalize It

I haven’t written much about drugs in our society, but I’m using a story in the Sun-Times to start putting down some thoughts.  I’d appreciate any reader feedback on this one especially.

Remember, this happened in Texas.  No, I do not in any way condone what this 18-year-old man did.  However, it shows we’re not far from Nancy Reagan’s infamous War on Drugs.

A teenager shown on a video coaxing his 2- and 4-year-old nephews into smoking marijuana was sentenced Thursday to eight years in prison.

Demetris McCoy, 18, pleaded guilty to two charges of injury to a child/causing bodily injury and agreed to testify against his co-defendant, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported online Thursday.

Does this merit eight years in prison?  In light of the following, perhaps it does:

Drug tests showed the youngsters had marijuana and cocaine in their bodies. When the video was made, the children’s mother was sleeping in another room, police have said. She was not arrested.

Somehow these little ones came across cocaine, and that scares me.  Yes, this 18-year-old in Texas was wrong.  My question is, would he have done this today at all if Nancy Reagan had taken us down a different path twenty-eight years ago?

I wonder where we would be today if, instead of declaring a War on Drugs in 1980, Nancy Reagan had declared war on a legal system that punishes drug offenders instead of treating them for the medical problem they have.

That’s right.  We’re treating drugs punitively.  “Three strikes and your out” works great in baseball, but this simplistic mantra has become our de facto manner of treating drug use.  Why not treat drug abuse as a medical problem?

I know this may seem like a stretch, but indulge me a bit.

What if we declared a War on the Common Cold?  Wouldn’t we all feel like we were doing something positive?  What if we locked anyone up who had a cold?  Wouldn’t that solve the problem of this nefarious virus that we can’t kill, but must tolerate until it decides to go away?

No, that would be silly.

There was a time in human history, however, when that was precisely our response to illness.  We didn’t know any better, perhaps.  But today, we do.

I know what I’m saying sounds absurd, but if we had begun to shift our thinking in 1980, followed a new paradigm when it comes to drugs, I wonder where we would be now.  What if, instead of arresting alleged offenders, sending them to jail for a few days or prison for a few years, we had begun to treat drug abuse as a medical issue?  Would we have more than one in 100 adults in the United States in jail or prison today?

With more than 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving far-more-populous China a distant second, according to a study by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.

Our final solution in the War Against Drugs was to incarcerate.

How did that work out?

We need to seriously consider the legalization of marijuana.

No, sorry, I don’t smoke it.  I’m not interested in smoking it, but I’m convinced we’re solving little to nothing about the proliferation of drugs in our society by throwing kids in jail, seizing automobiles, requiring community service, and building more prisons.

Am I suggesting that drugs should be a free-for-all, available on every corner?

No.  We already have that.

The problem is, it’s so damn easy to write another law or pass another ordinance.  In fact, it requires no thought at all to throw a kid in prison, treat him or her like a wild animal in a cage, and wonder why we’re not winning the “War Against Drugs.”

We’re not winning because “war” is the wrong paradigm.

We need to completely rethink our response to the problem of drugs in our society, and we all have to rethink this together.