Vice Squad
Saturday, January 03, 2004
Why Is It Only When They Leave Office?

The city of Syracuse, New York, has an elected "Auditor". The duties of the Auditor, it seems, are (not surprisingly) seeing if city funds are well spent. The outgoing auditor, Minch Lewis, thinks that the resources devoted to prosecuting the War on Drugs are not being well spent, according to this article in this week's Drug War Chronicle. Some 7,000 arrests in Syracuse each year, about one-fourth of the total, are drug-related, and almost one-third of those involve marijuana. From the Drug War Chronicle article:

"'The report did not just rely on statistics, [outgoing Auditor Minch] Lewis said. 'I went to many neighborhood meetings and I listened to people and talked to people,' Lewis said, 'and they universally said they weren't that concerned about others using drugs at home. It was the violence associated with drug sales on street corners that concerned them. If we made those drugs available in some other fashion, well, I don't think we'd be spending $34 million a year to prevent people from smoking pot in their living rooms. Our policy today may be contributing to the violence, just as prohibition did for the last generation,' Lewis said."

Lewis is not the only leader in Syracuse with such views: "Black minister the Rev. Larry Ellis has formed a group called Families Against Injustice to protest the federal prosecution of young men from the city's heavily black south side who had already served time for the same crimes in the state system. In what is a rare step for a black religious leader, Ellis and the organization are calling for an end to drug prohibition."

Even if you draw a different conclusion from that of Auditor Lewis and Reverend Ellis, aren't you pleased to see the policing of drug laws receiving the same sort of cost-benefit scrutiny as is typically applied to treatment and prevention and harm reduction programs? Vice Squad is.

[The heading for this post is in no way meant to reflect negatively on Auditor Lewis; rather, it is meant to highlight the (irrational?) rarity with which serving politicians publicly adopt an anti-drug war stance.]

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