In general, I support the concept of decriminalization when it comes to small amounts of certain substances whose possession currently can be considered a criminal offense.
I honestly believe that the person who lets his marijuana habit get the best of him is no better (or worse) morally than an alcoholic. And we all remember how pathetic the effort was to try to make liquor a criminal substance.
I’M NOT CONVINCED that the “war on drugs” has worked worth squat. In fact, many law enforcement agencies already treat possession of small quantities of those drugs (such as the guy who gets caught with the lone ‘joint’ in his pocket) as an offense worth writing up a ticket.
Which means those municipalities can fine people until they’re broke – which may go a longer way toward reducing their drug use. They can’t use it if they can’t afford it.
Decriminalization is really nothing more than that. The people who get most worked up about the concept are usually the ideologues who just want to rant and rage about something, anything – and don’t really need anything resembling fact or reason to base their argument upon.
Yet I happened to stumble across Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy on Tuesday. He was at the Cook County Building, where he was presented with a resolution by the county board that praised law enforcement for not acting like a batch of thugs in their treatment of protesters who were in Chicago last month to express outrage over the NATO Summit held in our fair city.
AFTERWARDS, THE ISSUE of decriminalization came up, and I wasn’t surprised to hear McCarthy say, “I’m not a fan of decriminalization.”
But he made a line of argument that continues to bounce around my brain. And while I’m not sure it’s going to sway me, I have to admit it is interesting enough that it deserves to be taken into consideration.
Which is why I feel compelled to share it with any of you who are taking the time to read this commentary.
As he put it, certain people are just going to look for whatever substance they can find to sell for a living. All decriminalization could wind up doing is reducing the potential for penalty.
FOR McCARTHY RECALLS his time as a New York-area law enforcement official when people who were sent to prison for serious drug crimes wound up turning to the sale of marijuana when they got out of prison for the specific reason that it was decriminalized.
Returning to cocaine or other hard drugs that they used to sell would have meant putting themselves at risk of being a repeat offender and getting sent back to prison for a substantial amount of time – quite possibly the bulk of what time they have left in life.
Selling “pot” would just be a batch of fines.
In short, some people are just determined not to have to get a “real” job to earn a living. They’ll turn to anything with the taint of being illicit and try to make money off of it.
WHICH MAY BE accurate. Just look at the “Outfit,” descended from the not-really-so-colorful gangsters of the 1920s.
They didn’t go out of business when “prohibition” came to an end. They found other rackets to try to make money off of.
So it may well be that McCarthy is right that decriminalization, in and of itself, won’t lower the crime rate. But there may also be a bigger issue at stake – one of turning people into criminals because of their own human weakness for those substances we now brand illegal.
It could be that allowing law enforcement to focus their attention on more violent acts could be what helps reduce the overall crime rate. Just a thought, as we all try to ponder this issue.