To the Editor:
I am writing to applaud Ron Cooper’s May 2015 editorial on the “elephant in the room:” the role of drugs in promoting crime and the decimation of drug users and their families. He argues cogently for decriminalization of “natural” drugs, that is, drugs that are manufactured from herbs and other flora: marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and opium. I am a public defender in New Jersey, and many of my clients are fundamentally no different from you and me. When they are prosecuted, and usually over-prosecuted, for possession with intent to distribute or distribution of these drugs, they serve very high sentences. If they live in urban communities, where it is impossible to walk outside a 1000-foot distance from school property, they receive extended terms. But, at least in Newark New Jersey, none of the people who are arrested for drug crimes have ever been arrested while selling to children. Moreover, if a police officer sees them even walk through the school zone, but arrests them for selling outside the school zone, they receive the extended terms. Young men and women spend most of their lives in prison for nonviolent crimes.
In New Jersey, the State government is promulgating diversionary programs into drug courts, which certain people charged with drug crimes, if they are found to suffer from addictions, can choose a rigorous drug treatment program as a form of probation, rather than serving a prison term. The program works! Michigan has such a program as well. Drug court is a beginning in a movement to remove the horror of prison terms for nonviolent drug crimes.
But it is only a beginning. Ron is entirely correct to hold that decriminalization or legalization would reduce the violent crimes that are committed when people with drug addictions become entangled in the underground economy of drug manufacture and distribution. An additional benefit is that the “new jim crow,” the segregation of people of color by putting them in prison, would no longer be a cause of the alienation and rage that black and Hispanic Americans feel toward the criminal justice system.
In the interest of full disclosure, Ron is my cousin and I am only, by virtue of my family ties, an honorary Michigander, but I carry that label with great pride. I cannot vote for Michigan legislators, but I can, as here, applaud the conversation that Ron will undoubtedly cause. He an I do not always agree on politics, but we share a concern for the increasing violents caused by mass incarceration due to our draconian drug laws.
John Douard, Esq.
2 Fairfield Street
Montclair, NJ 07042