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Drug Charges, the War on Drugs, and Why it Needs to End

Everybody has heard how the court system is backed up and clogged with so many cases. The following is a letter to the editor printed in The Wall Street Journal. The letter was written by a retired state court trial judge. It may help to shed some light on the "backlog" problem. The letter reads:

As a retired state court trial judge and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), I read with some interest "Record Backlog Jams Courts" (page one, April 7th) about cases in federal courts. These delays often amount to justice denied for litigants who don't get the relief they seek in a timely manner.

The article doesn't mention the elephant in the courtroom: the explosion of drug cases in both federal and state court and their effect on our criminal system. Rather than debate the issue of how and where to put more courtrooms, it is time to have a serious and adult discussion about drug use and the criminal justice system.

Statistics from the U.S. Sentencing Commission for 2013 reveal that 31% of all federal criminal cases were drug cases, and 21% of those cases involved marijuana. This is our "war on drugs" in action. If in fact there is a war, it seems to me we are losing.

In my 28 years on the bench, my criminal docket contained a greater percentage of drug cases that the average federal court docket, and if you factored in the crimes committed by drug users to help support their habit, the number was much closer to 50%.

The war on drugs has been a decades' long failed experiment in treating drug use as criminal behavior. The cost of this folly to the judicial system goes beyond the court system and takes valuable man hours from law enforcement personnel and is the major cause of jail and prison overcrowding. Treatment of drug use as a medical and not criminal issue would benefit not only the individual user, but the court system and society as well.

Gordon D. McAllister, Jr.

Queenstown, MD

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