drug wars

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NTRODUCTORY REMARKS by SAM DASH, SYMPOSIUM CHAIRMAN...Wednesday, October 4, 2000 - Georgetown University Law Center


PROFESSOR SAM DASH: Good morning and welcome to Georgetown University Law Center. I give you a very good welcome on behalf of Dean Judy Areen, our Law School dean who couldn't be here, but sends her regrets.

Welcome to the symposium, this very special symposium reviewing the Drug War policies of our Government. It's sponsored by Georgetown, Frontline, and National Public Radio.

We hope this symposium will begin a national dialogue to be repeated all over America. It's long since past time that this should happen. But we need a national dialogue like the one that we're going to have today, in this symposium, to reassess, to look at what we have been doing with regard to illegal drugs in America, so that we can resolve the crisis of illegal drugs that is ravaging our communities, our criminal justice system, and the very structure of democratic government.

The panel topics raise the critical questions facing the nation, and the panelists themselves are a remarkable group of experts who, for the most part, have been on the frontline of the so-called War On Drugs.

First, a few words to put the symposium in context. For most of the past century, American Government has experimented with a policy of prohibition to combat certain human desires among its citizens, determined by national policy to be immoral or unlawful.

The particular evils included in this policy have been alcohol, prostitution and pornography, gambling, and drugs. All of them have in common a large number of willing consumers of the prohibited product, and a large, organized, illegal industry created to serve these consumers for huge profits.

The policy of prohibition has already proved futile with regard to a numba--number of the targeted evils.

The prohibition of alcohol by the Eighteen Amendment to the Constitution created a gigantic organized crime industry of bootleggers, with resulting murders, corruption, and almost total failure to curb alcohol consumption.

Frustrated and dismayed by the disastrous effects of prohibition, without any significant curbing of alcohol consumption, the American public demanded repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. This led to the regulation of manufacture, sale, and drinking of alcohol through other strategies.

At one time, gambling prohibition produced some of the greatest sources of income for organized crime. Gambling, particularly among the poor, was rampant under Prohibition. It was administered and regulated by organized crime.

When I was district attorney of Philadelphia in the 1950's, a large part of my caseload was prosecuting numbers bankers and numbers dealers. Once again, huge illegal profits were made. Violence, and other criminal conduct were generated, and corruption eroded law enforcement and other parts of the justice system.

Today, gambling has emerged as a legitimate activity sponsored by state and local lotteries, and increasing development of legal gambling in casinos. The story of prostitution and pornography is a muddied one. England, long ago, removed private prostitution and other sex offenses from the criminal code.

In America, while we still profess to arrest prostitutes and their johns, the consumers have generally prevailed and prohibition has produced abuse of women, violence, corruption, and disease.

This leaves us with only illegal drugs being addressed aggressively by the Government prohibition strategy through criminal law enforcement.

Have we gone down the same futile road as liquor prohibition? Certainly, a gigantic international organized crime industry has been created, much larger than the organized crime in Al Capone's day, and making billions of dollars of profit.

Violent crime among drug dealers and gangs have resulted, including property crimes to provide money for drugs. Corruption and disease is rampant. Our prisons are being filled by drug convictions, without there appearing to be any significant reduction of the illegal drug trade in America.

These are the issues to be addressed by the panels in this symposium. But is our drug policy working better than we generally believe? Are there good reasons to continue vigorous criminal law enforcement strategy? Or if it is true that we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem, how shall we more effectively balance law enforcement and prevention, treatment, and education? How shall we best use our resources to address this tragedy?

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