War on drugs: two extremes

America’s war on drugs continues, despite the government’s policy which is failing yet for 35 years. Because, drugs are being cheaper, purer and more available than ever. The government has several excuses for the disappointing results. The police wouldn’t be filling in the paperwork properly; there wouldn’t be enough prison space to lock up all the drug dealers. So New York tripled the size of its prison system. Today those prisons are overcrowded, mostly with nonviolent drug offenders, and there isn't a maximum-security prison in the state that manages to keep drugs away from the inmates.

The drug problem caused a division within the US on how to deal with this subject. The one state is experimenting with legally available medical marihuana, another one prosecutes more or less everything and everyone.

Pinellas County (Florida), for example, will consider making it harder to sell items, like pipes, that can be used to ingest drugs.

Now in draft form, the proposed law is the work of a Drug Paraphernalia Abatement Task Force that County Commission Chairman Ken Welch helped organize in October.

Pinellas State Attorney Bernie McCabe, a task force member, said that prosecutions for paraphernalia possession normally occur only when drug residue is found on an item, such as cocaine deposits in a pipe.

Prosecution for the sale of paraphernalia is more difficult because under state law, people can be found guilty only when it has been proven they knew the item they sold would be used to ingest drugs, he said. A proprietor of a convenience store, for example, should know that a pipe bearing a marijuana leaf is likely to be used for taking illegal drugs.

Leo Calzadilla, owner of Purple Haze Tobacco & Accessories in St. Petersburg, said the proposed law is just as absurd. By its logic, he said, a Home Depot cashier selling a can of spray paint - which is sometimes inhaled to get high - could be breaking the law.

He objects to the charge that his business may fuel drug abuse. 'A crack head is not going to come into my store and buy a $100 tobacco pipe,' Calzadilla said. 'He is going to go into the local convenience store and buy a can of soda and smoke his crack from out of that.'

Violators could face a fine of $500 or 60 days in jail. Repeat offenders could see their businesses closed down.

The County Commission will hear the task force recommendations Thursday and will likely set a date for a public hearing on the proposal.

Erie County, Pennsylvania makes room for a more positive view. Executive Joel Giambra suggested to look into the idea of drug legalization. “After all, everything Americans come into contact with is regulated and controlled. The chair you are sitting on passed inspection and met some standards. As did the car you drive, the food you eat, the TV you watch. Everything is regulated - everything that is, but potentially highly dangerous drugs. […] We have turned control of these substances over to organized crime.'

“Legalization doesn't mean we should put barrels of crack cocaine on the sidewalk for people to help themselves from. It doesn't mean there would be heroin vending machines in our schools. It doesn't mean airline pilots should fly stoned. On the contrary. It means regulation and control. We need to understand that more of the same is just not going to work. Plan A has failed; Buffalo needs to find a Plan B.'

From:
Giambra is right; new approach needed to drug war - By Nicolas Eyle, Buffalo News (NY)
Paraphernalia is drug law's focus - By Will van Sant, Times Staff Writer

Image: June Moon