There is no method in madness

ONE of the peculiar things about politics is that many folks who denounce it can’t seem to have enough of it — just like the many critics of failed government policies who nevertheless advocate for more of them.

In the CNMI, there is still over a year left before the next general elections, but the maneuvering, the jostling and the speechifying have already begun, and it’s quite entertaining even if you’re not a willfully bamboozled, low-information political obsessive.

Meanwhile,  nonpartisan (or less partisan) government officials are doing most of the heavy lifting to mitigate long-standing problems, one of which is substance abuse. Outright prohibition doesn’t work. (Not even in correctional facilities.)  “Zero-tolerance” laws are not effective. (Like the anti-littering law.) And to insist that we come up with even more punitive measures, to quote H.L. Mencken, is sadism. (See results of “war on drugs” in Mexico and the Philippines, to cite just two of the most egregious examples of insanity implemented as public policy.)

There must be a better way to address this persistent problem without the costly, horrific and unholy mess spawned by current drug abuse laws.

Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio is right. “We must stop the madness of the status quo,” she said recently. She proposes, among other things, the development of more treatment courts and prevention campaigns.

The goals remain the same: protect the children, ensure public safety, and treat drug addiction. But there ought to be a more humane and more intelligent way to achieve them.

However

WE must also acknowledge that the war on drugs — especially on “hard” drugs — persists in many parts of the world because many of us believe that the alternative is “societal chaos and decay.” Hence the need for a persistent and relentless public information campaign that will focus on the results so far of the unmoronic drug policies implemented in other countries. 

For example, Portugal. As noted by a special report published a few years ago by the U.K.-based Guardian,  Portugal in the 1980s was basically the poster child of a drug-addled nation. “[O]ne in 10 people had slipped into the depths of heroin use — bankers, university students, carpenters, socialites, miners — Portugal was in a state of panic. …one in every 100 Portuguese was battling a problematic heroin addiction…. Headlines in the local press raised the alarm about overdose deaths and rising crime. The rate of HIV infection in Portugal became the highest in the European Union.”

The government’s (popular) response was predictable: an all-out war on drugs. “Drugs were denounced as evil, drug users were demonised, and proximity to either was criminally and spiritually punishable. The Portuguese government launched a series of national anti-drug campaigns that were less ‘Just Say No’ and more ‘Drugs Are Satan.’ ”

Eventually, more rational voices started speaking out, and one of them was a former judge. According to U.S. economist Daniel J. Mitchell, the former judge pointed out that jailing people for taking drugs — for drug addiction — was not only counterproductive but unethical as well.

In 2001, the Guardian reported, “Portugal became the first country to decriminalise the possession and consumption of all illicit substances. The opioid crisis soon stabilised, and the ensuing years saw dramatic drops in problematic drug use, HIV and hepatitis infection rates, overdose deaths, drug-related crime and incarceration rates…. The official policy of decriminalisation made it far easier for a broad range of services (health, psychiatry, employment, housing etc) that had been struggling to pool their resources and expertise, to work together more effectively to serve their communities.”

The CNMI, to be sure, is not Portugal, and changes to current drug laws require the consent of the voting public. It will be a long, hard slog. But what Judge Kim-Tenorio has proposed is a good start.  And so is the CNMI Methamphetamine and Opioid Initiative which is led by government and community organizations working “collaboratively to recognize, understand and spot the gaps in prevention, treatment, and recovery.”

Editor

Zaldy Dandan is the recipient of the Best Editorial Writer Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the CNMI Humanities Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. His three books are available on amazon.com

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