Who really thinks we’ve mastered illicit drugs? | Columnists

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Would you believe me if I told you that Martinsville has the distinction of having the first elected leader of any community in Virginia to champion drug legalization?

First, let me tell you what made me remember this little nugget of 31-year-old news.

This week, I had just finished covering a preliminary hearing where two men are charged with serious sex charges involving a 20-year-old girl from Roanoke who the defense says came to Henry County “just to get high.”

The issue that came to light during this hearing was an alleged $2,000 debt she owed to a guy who she said gave her an ultimatum on how she could settle her debt.

She also stated under oath that she enjoys smoking weed, but hasn’t been involved with other recreational drugs in over a year, although she has no explanation as to how. whose urinalysis after her ordeal in Henry County proved she had methamphetamine and cocaine in her. system.

The week before the hearing, I toured a $68 million jail in Henry County, built to house a growing inmate population despite our declining resident population.

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I had all of this in mind as I recorded the latest list of over 100 indictments from a Martinsville grand jury, in which the majority of the charges included possession and distribution of methamphetamine, cocaine , heroin and, occasionally, fentanyl.

Then it occurred to me Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry, Martinsville Police Chief Eddie Cassidy and Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith all said the same thing: just like the rest of the country, most people incarcerated today are there as direct or direct victims. side effect of illicit drugs.

This should be a sobering thought for all of us.

In short, if illegal drugs became legal, we wouldn’t need to provide a $68 million, 400-bed, three-a-day prison — or so it might seem.

This brings me to the occasion of former Martinsville Mayor Allan McClain on September 25, 1990, when he read a three-page statement prepared at a city council meeting that he was in favor of the legalization of illegal drugs, at least marijuana and possibly cocaine. .

He was still on the hunt for heroin, and methamphetamine and fentanyl had yet to appear among users at the time.

It was his response to an offer from the Henry County Board of Supervisors for the city council to join them in a joint resolution condemning drug legalization.

He was the only Council member to vote against the resolution that evening.

Such an effort could “deprive the criminal elements of our society of a hugely lucrative business,” McClain said in an article reported in the Greensboro News & Record two days after his statement.

“McClain said he was not in favor of legalizing all drugs, only certain drugs like marijuana and possibly cocaine. These drugs, he said, could be distributed by a controlled outlet, such as ABC stores sell alcohol,” the article said.

In 1994, a Drugs and Crime Data Center & Clearinghouse report showed that 26% of all violent crimes, 24% of all property crimes, and 57% of all DUIs involved people who admitted to being drug users. alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.

More recently, a 2017 Bureau of Justice report said that 21% of people convicted in state and local jails are incarcerated for crimes committed for the purpose of obtaining drugs or money. for drugs.

“Nearly 40% of those incarcerated for property crimes and 14% of those incarcerated for violent crimes said they committed their most serious offense for drug-related reasons,” said a Prison Policy report. Initiative on June 28, 2017.

The bottom line is this: More than half of the state prison population and two-thirds of the sentenced prison population report drug addiction or abuse.

This agrees with the analysis of Perry, Cassidy and Smith.

I am not saying, like McClain, that legalizing drugs is the solution, because I fear it is not. The legalization of alcohol has done nothing to eliminate alcoholism. Banning tobacco advertising has not eliminated tobacco use, nor its modern counterparts like vaping.

Even Virginia has decided to make possession of marijuana legal now, but selling it is not.

The answer, for me, comes down to something I hate to say and I don’t really know why; maybe it goes against my generation.

Chemical addiction is a mental state that becomes physical and the two, tied together, create a wall that does not break down with arrests, convictions and incarcerations. We have proved it enough.

Mental health in this country has been neglected for far too long, and until we address the drug problem as a mental health problem for the abuser, we will continue to circle around and end up where we have start.

A substantial percentage of our population is like water: people take the road of least resistance, and illegal drugs are the fastest way to get there.

We need a new roadmap. The one that changes the direction in which we are going. McClain may have been wrong, but he was right to fix the flaws in a system we still use.

It’s time to change. It’s time to consider doing something else.

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 2360. Follow him @billdwyatt.

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