Calvert News July 2005 – The Drug Symposium Summarized

The Drug Symposium Summarized

The Calvert symposium on drugs on May 18 did not produce complete agreement among all speakers on all subjects: few discussions do so. However, there was general agreement on some major themes:

1. Treating marijuana possession as an arrestable offense, rather than one leading to a summons and fines or mandated treatment makes little sense, and gives three-quarters of a million persons arrest records each year. Calvert’s earlier symposium on criminal justice in Baltimore City disclosed that in that jurisdiction the allowable prison sentence of one year for a first offense renders the law almost completely nugatory, since cases, once removed for jury trial, are plea-bargained in order to clear dockets for violent crimes, under circumstances in which the bargaining power of prosecutors is known to be nonexistent. The result is neither punishment nor treatment but unsupervised probation; the only consequence of the proceeding is that the defendant has an arrest record. If criminal penalties are to be retained, the allowable sentence should be reduced to 60 days; since there will be an actual threat of trial in the District Court, the penalty may make diversion and treatment programs effective.

2. Mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders result in subjecting them to schools for crime, to overcrowding prisons, and to no reduction in drug use by offenders.

3. The creation of ‘drug courts’ with authority to waive minimum penalties for those successfully completing treatment programs, is the politically most feasible way to secure a reduction in penalties.

4. There are a variety of alternative approaches to drug control, most of which do not implicate the criminal process. Those desiring to be ‘tough on drugs’ would do well to explore these, while reducing criminal penalties, which as applied to users are valuable only to the extent that they foster entry into diversion programs. One of the participants in the symposium, Dr. Robert Du Pont, catalogued some of them:

Improve and expand drug abuse treatment programs. Although 3.3 million Americans enter drug treatment each year, the demand for treatment far exceeds availability. In 2000, only 1 person in 14 received the drug treatment they needed. Improving drug treatment must include the development of more cost-effective treatment, rather than simply expanding existing models.

Encourage student drug testing programs. If a young person gets to be 21 without using an illegal drug, the likelihood of that person ever having to struggle with drug abuse is extremely low. Drug testing programs give kids convincing reasons to avoid using illegal drugs.

Expand workplace drug testing and treatment programs. Workplace testing initiatives have had significant impact on the prevalence of drug use in this country. While maintaining this progress, the next step is to expand testing with special focus on increased random testing of employees outside the limits of safety-sensitive jobs and use employers as leaders in community drug abuse prevention efforts.

Reduce drug abuse in the criminal justice system through mandated treatment and progressive sanctions. Drug abuse is endemic in the criminal justice system so success on this front is critical to the war on drug use. Americans must insist that all offenders released into their communities be drug-free.

Promote wider public understanding and use of the 12-step programs for long-term recovery. 12-step programs are the “secret weapon ” in the war on illegal drugs. Broader support of this “modern miracle” will improve the success rates for everyone striving to overcome addiction.

Institute drug testing and treatment for all recipients of public assistance programs. Illegal drug use thwarts the humanitarian goals of public assistance programs by undermining the opportunity for recipients to become independent. It is imperative that all programs providing public assistance include routine testing so that drug abusers can receive treatment.

Revitalize the Parents Movement. Started in the mid-1970s, the original Parents Movement was the principle reason for the 50% drop in illegal drug use between 1979 and 1992. We can, once again, mobilize the power of ordinary parents and provide the support they need to prevent and treat drug abuse in their homes, schools and communities.

Reduce prescription drug abuse. Non-medical use of prescription medicines is an increasingly serious problem. Responding effectively will require expanded outreach to educate patients and their families about the dangers of medication misuse, as well as increased involvement from pharmacists, physicians and pharmaceutical manufacturers, and the government.

Reduce drugged driving. New developments in biotechnology have made it possible to test for illegal drugs in the way that alcohol is tested. Drugged driving programs will save lives and curb illegal drug use.

Posted in: Drugs, News Series