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Voice: Harm reduction a better solution than drug war

March 19, 2002

The case of the drug-smuggling former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service inspector stationed in Calexico is not an isolated incident. This insidious form of institutional corruption stretches from coast to coast and reaches the highest levels.

In 1999 the Los Angeles Police Department Rampart scandal involved anti-drug officers selling drugs and framing gang members. Last year the former commander of anti-drug operations in Colombia was found guilty of laundering the profits of his wife's heroin-smuggling operation. Entire countries have been destabilized due to the corrupting influence of the illegal drug trade.

Like alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, the drug war is causing tremendous societal harm, while failing miserably at preventing use. While politicians ignore the historical precedent, European countries are embracing harm reduction, a public health alternative based on the principle that both drug use and drug prohibition have the potential to cause harm.

Examples of harm reduction include needle-exchange programs to stop the spread of HIV, marijuana regulation aimed at separating the hard and soft drug markets, and treatment alternatives that do not require incarceration as a prerequisite. Ironically, fear of appearing "soft on crime" compels politicians to support a punitive drug policy that ultimately subsidizes organized crime.

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ROBERT SHARPE

Program officer

Drug Policy Alliance

Washington

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