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When DEA asked law enforcement executives, community leaders and prevention advocates exactly what they want and need to address legalization questions, the answers were clear. They said,"It is essential that the facts regarding the true implications of the legalization issue be made known. Help us to explain this complex issue to our families, friends and fellow citizens. Put it in words everyone can understand. And give us the support we need to continue to make the case until it doesn't have to be made anymore."
Speaking Out Against Drug Legalization is the first step in helping to deliver the credible, consistent message about the risks and costs of the legalization of drugs to people in terms that make sense to them. The anti-legalization message is effective when communicated by representatives of the Federal Government, but takes on even more credibility when it comes from those in the community who can put the legalization debate in local perspective.
DEA will undertake the ongoing work of responding to your inquiries, updating and expanding the guide as necessary and evaluating its usefulness and impact. We invite you to provide your views on this publication. We hope Speaking Out will be used in several ways. For local law enforcement executives, community leaders, prevention advocates and others, it should serve, first, as an open invitation to join in making the affirmative case against legalization. Second, it provides background and practical answers to the most commonly asked questions about the legalization of drugs.
There are a few things to remember when discussing the legalization issue.
First, according to reliable public opinion polls, the majority of the American people and lawmakers agree that drugs should not be legalized.
Second, when discussing legalization, it is important that all available information and experiences be brought into the open. This can be accomplished by asking the tough questions. Some of these questions are listed below. Insist that any discussion be based on a specific definition of how legalization should be implemented, not an abstract theory.
Third, don't lose faith. This is a long and difficult effort we are undertaking to get our issues on the table and be heard. Eventually, the climate will change and pro-legalization arguments will again be out of fashion. While the debate appears to be cyclical, having more resonance in certain circumstances, we must continue to impress upon audiences, and ultimately the American people, that legalization would be a devastating defeat to the commitment that so many have made to living free, healthy and unfettered in our nation.
In August 1994, in an effort to identify compelling arguments against legalization, DEA sponsored a two-day Anti-Legalization Forum at Quantico, Virginia, for experts in the field. Several police chiefs, representatives from Government agencies and private sector authorities gave their time to this important task. The participants were asked to refine the arguments that can be made against legalization and evaluate ways to address the legalization issue in an effective and meaningful way.
Three groups were formed to discuss various aspects of the legalization debate: Social/Economic issues, Health Effects, and Crime and Violence. All of the arguments espoused by legalization proponents impact on these three areas, and many of the s outlined in this publication cross-cut the topics discussed by the three groups. At the end of the two-day session, group leaders presented the recommendations of each group.
While individual groups arrived at specific conclusions, there were a number of general concerns and ideas raised by all participants:
* Those speaking against legalization need to be positive and confident about that position. Legalization opponents must constantly ask just how many drug addicts will be created under legalization, how the government will support addicts' habits, and who will pay for the social, criminal and other costs of legalization.
* Legalization opponents often have a hard time being heard. Although only a small minority of academics, social scientists and other public figures advocate legalization, the conference participants felt that the legalization advocates make better use of the media in making their opinions known than the far larger group of legalization opponents. A current climate of frustration with crime, violence and drug abuse is fueling the legalization debate, and accomplishments in controlling drugs do not get much attention. The costs of the fight against drugs are generally not put in perspective, and the costs of inaction are never discussed. Nevertheless, conference participants agreed that a positive, proactive campaign against legalization can be very effective.
* Legalization proponents are formidable opponents. The group acknowledged that proponents of legalization are generally well-prepared and credible people whose arguments, though compelling, are faulty. Proponents effectively use lawyers and public relations firms to espouse liberalization of drug policies.
* Misperceptions drive the debate. The legalization debate is being driven by the perception that the costs of solving the drug problem in America are far too high. The group cited public mistrust of government and a perception that federal agencies attacking the problem are fragmented and have no consensus about direction as reasons that the legalization debate rings true with many people. There are also numerous misperceptions about the foreign experience relating to drug legalization and the system of prescription for heroin. Forum participants stressed the need to get the real story on the British, Dutch and Swiss experiments out into the open.
* Americans are frustrated by the drug problem. While an overwhelming majority of the American people are not convinced that legalization is a good option, there is a sense of frustration that we have spent so much money on controlling drug trafficking and use, yet violence and crime continue. The group noted that most Americans erroneously think that legalization advocates are only suggesting that marijuana be legalized, and are generally unaware of the dramatic impact that legalizing cocaine and heroin will have.
* The debate must not take place in the abstract. The debate on legalization must be brought down from an abstract concept to a common sense scenario. Audiences need to understand that 70 percent of drug users are employed, and that the school bus driver who drives your children to school could smoke marijuana, that the surgeon who operates on you may have cocaine in his system, and that the driver in back of you may be on speed. The debate needs to demonstrate graphically how the common man will be impacted by drug legalization. [Reprinted with permission from Tribune Media Services]
What Motivates Legalization Proponents?
Some of the media, certain quarters in academia and some frustrated Americans see legalization as an option which should be discussed. The panel discussed some of the factors possibly motivating advocates of legalization in order to appreciate the complexity of the debate. The group noted that many who advocate legalization are attempting to "normalize" the behavior of drug-taking and that many are people who have tried drugs without significant adverse consequences.
Others see potential profit in legalizing drugs and still others simply believe that individual rights to take drugs should be protected. The group also acknowledged that the legalization concept appeals to people who are looking for simple solutions to he devastating problem of drug abuse.
From the DEA
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