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Commentary: Ending the drug war could start with a simple question

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 29, 2008 - Maybe the bumper sticker should read: "Honk if you think the drug war is stupid." Sure, the vast majority of voters believe the drug war is silly. It increases crime, costs a bunch and doesn't decrease the use of drugs. How dumb is that?

I have concluded the problem is primarily political. That is, politicians worry that unless they support the drug war they will be seen as soft on crime and so will be defeated. Each politician believes that if he loses the 20 percent of the public who support this war (and I'm guessing at the percentage of supporters), he will lose the next election.

We have to convince the politicians that the public does not support this war. My plan to accomplish this objective is as follows.

Every time a person who thinks the drug war should be stopped goes to a speech by a politician, he or she should wait for the question-and-answer period, and then should go to the microphone and politely say, "Members of the audience: Please raise your hand if you think the drug war is a good idea and should be continued."

I imagine only a few hands will go up.

(Unfortunately I have not had a chance to try this yet. A friend recently hosted a political gathering and invited me. I planned to go and ask the question. And out of deference and friendship to him and his wife, I decided to ask in advance for permission to ask the question. He said: "Too controversial - absolutely not!")

What are the implications of asking this question at political gatherings and only having a few hands going up?

First, the low number of hands will send a dramatic message directly to the politician at that meeting that the current policy is known by the public to be nuts.

Then, if many people start asking the question at many gatherings, it will turn into a movement. (Nore Arlo Guthrie's: Alice's Restaurant and Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement).

We may become the subject of national attention. The stigma of asking the question would go down as publicity about the movement goes up. The more the question is asked the more the question will be asked.

Pretty soon the big topic in the Senate Dining Room will be that the public doesn't support the drug war. If you believe, as I believe, that politicians are like airport wind socks, that is, they have no substance but are excellent detectors of which way the wind is blowing, the politicians will change the policy.

There will be wringing of hands and the passage and funding of ineffective drug education programs, but we can live with that in exchange for stopping the crime-inducing war on drugs.

So, let's have at it. I promise to ask the question the next time I have a chance. Loyal readers: You try it too, and then write to me about what happens.

I will provide a report as the data come in.

Bevis Schock is an attorney in private practice in Clayton. 

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